Despite a jobless rate that has been at roughly 8% or higher for four years straight, recruiters at many companies have complained that they have jobs to fill but no good people to fill them. While there are acute talent shortages in key employment areas, such as nursing and advanced manufacturing, across many markets, hiring managers have overlooked a key talent pool for many skilled positions. People with disabilities make up roughly 15 percent of the U.S. working-age population, yet their participation rate in the workforce is roughly 1/3 of their non-disabled colleagues – and their unemployment rate is nearly double their non-disabled counterparts.
22 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the employment picture is little changed for this group, which includes people with visible disabilities such as cerebral palsy or paraplegia, as well as hidden ones, such as individuals with ADD, Aspergers or certain types of Multiple Sclerosis. There are many reasons for this; here are a few of them:
- Corporate recruiting practices make it difficult for many people with disabilities to get hired. Disabled job seekers can fall through the cracks when job descriptions cite “requirements” that are not needed for the job, but which only serve to exclude people with disabilities, such as driving requirements for computer programmers; online applications that do not meet Internet standards for accessibility; and hiring managers who lack the training to effectively interview candidates with disabilities.
- People with disabilities have less well-formed professional and social networks. This is caused by a number of factors: Less time at work due to fewer job opportunities; more time in school to avoid to the challenge of work; and a lack of formal and informal mentors with disabilities who can offer their expertise to the younger generation.
- Expectations for people with disabilities are set by others, not themselves. For example, I know an engineering graduate with high-functioning autism who is dissatisfied with the profession that was chosen for him by his well-meaning parents, as well as the career opportunities his school pushed upon him. Unable to focus on his true passion for filmmaking and science fiction, this individual goes from one engineering job interview to another, and, with each passing rejection, sinks into greater and greater despair.
People with disabilities are a hidden talent pool that can provide a much needed skill set boost to the recruiting department. Once hired, they will also likely offer a unique perspective on the company’s business that could shed new light on current opportunities, or even suggest new markets to be explored. Companies which fail to embrace people with disabilities risk being left behind — not only by missing out on some great talent or business opportunities, but also by being out of touch with some of their younger non-disabled workers who went to school with people with disabilities and therefore expect to be working with them as well.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adam Kaplan is the Founder and CEO of Big Tent Jobs, LLC (www.bigtentjobs.com) a Michigan-based recruiting agency which places talented technical professionals, including those with hidden and visible disabilities, in positions at leading companies. Adam was recently appointed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to serve on the Michigan Council for Rehabilitation Services. He can be reached by calling 877-366-6562 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.