The latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows there are currently 8.1 million job openings. After record-high unemployment rates, that number should be a positive indicator of recovery, but it could create problems for employers if those jobs remain unfilled.
HR professionals have pulled out all the stops to attract talent, yet there is a motivated and qualified population that has remained untapped, even during this labor shortage. Individuals with disabilities are historically the first employees to have their hours cut or be laid off. Approximately 1 million people with disabilities lost their jobs between the beginning of the pandemic and July 2020, and many were forced to leave the workforce this year due to health concerns.
The work environment has changed significantly in the past year. The widespread availability and success of remote work opportunities mean that HR professionals can recruit from a more geographically diverse pool of talent. This evolution also means workers with disabilities can benefit from more flexibility and safety in their return to work.
This combination is providing the perfect opportunity right now for employers to improve diversity and equality within the American workforce and give employees with disabilities the same opportunity to prove themselves. Here are a few ways HR professionals can get engaged in this progressively advancing job climate:
1) Banish False Myths and Stereotypes
Even before the pandemic, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was high, and it is currently one and one-half times (12.6%) the unemployment rate of those without disabilities (7.9%). A primary reason for this discrepancy is the perpetuation of myths regarding individuals with disabilities and the workplace, including that they don’t want to get back to work or that hiring an individual with a disability will result in lower-quality work.
But these statements couldn’t be further from the truth. Here at Allsup, more than half of the people we assist with our services have indicated a desire to get back to work as soon as they are able. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Labor found that employers that hired individuals with disabilities have benefited from a 90% increase in employee retention, combined with these workers’ loyalty. It’s clear that these stereotypes should be discarded as incorrect and irrelevant.
2) Read Up on Reasonable Accommodations
Another myth keeping people with disabilities from being hired is the assumption that providing reasonable accommodations is costly. But the reality is that 56% of accommodations cost absolutely nothing, such as modified schedules or flexible hours, while most other accommodations cost, on average, around $500 or less. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines “reasonable accommodations” as providing assistance to qualified employees to do their job despite having a disability, unless doing so would pose an undue hardship on the employer.
That last qualification alone should clear up any misconceptions about the difficulty of complying with the ADA. Whether an employee needs an adjustable desk, a larger monitor, or any other modifications, making sure employees with disabilities have what they need to be successful is usually simple and cost-effective and goes a long way toward increasing productivity.
3) Make Sure the Company Culture Prioritizes Awareness and Inclusion
Diversity and inclusion have been major topics of discussion within workplaces over the past year, and many companies have made strides in the right direction. To continue that trend, it’s important to evaluate how diversity and awareness of underrepresented groups are handled in company literature and communications. One way to increase awareness among employees is to recognize National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October and provide resources for anyone interested in learning more.
There are also tangible benefits to making diversity and inclusion top priorities within company hiring practices. According to a report from The Center for Financial Planning, companies with diverse workforces are more likely to retain the talent they hire, which, in turn, leads to better overall job satisfaction, less time and money devoted to recruitment, and an increase in companywide profitability.
As companies search for skilled employees to fill the gaps in their workforce exacerbated by the current labor shortage, there has never been a better time to solve two problems with one solution. By expanding the talent pool to include individuals with disabilities, HR professionals will gain motivated and qualified employees and make real progress toward creating a workplace that’s more diverse, inclusive, and welcoming to all.