There are 3.7 million unfilled jobs in the U.S. yet we keep hearing employers say they can't find good talent to fill their jobs. In 2007 five percent of the population that wanted a job couldn't find a job; in 2012 that figure has doubled. I'll leave the debate about whether unemployment is being driven by a "structural" or "cyclical" phenomenon, but I feel pretty confident that the unemployment we're seeing now isn't driven by a talent gap.
I pose to you that one of the problems related to people not connecting with jobs lies with the outdated way in which companies recruit, hire and utilize their people. To compete in a global, knowledge-based economy, we need modern approaches for inclusive recruiting that's driven by new technologies. This is especially true for businesses looking at new federal hiring incentives for workers with disabilities. The workforce of the 21st century requires innovative strategies for recruiting, hiring and retaining the new knowledge-driven worker.
A good example is telecommuting. Telecommuting increases productivity because people have 24/7 access to mobile devices, cloud-based applications, and high-speed networks. Telecommuting also opens up job opportunities for people with disabilities -- many who cannot physically go to an office every day.
Ironically, telecommuting for most employers is still a perk reserved for those in management and is rarely used as a bona-fide recruiting strategy for people with, and without, disabilities. In our global and always-on economy, this is a missed opportunity.
Even the strategies many employers use to look for job candidates are outdated. Large numbers of employers still rely on the modern-day version of the 'classified ad' approach and post open positions in large, unwieldy sites hoping to find that pearl from the sea of responses that will end up in their inbox. That rarely happens. And when it comes to recruiting people with disabilities, businesses look in places where they are least likely to find what they're looking for such as publicly funded state vocational rehabilitation agencies, Career One Stop centers, and national workforce exchanges. The strategy isn't wrong -- targeting position announcements where there are people with disabilities is on the face of it a sound strategy. However, when businesses dig a little deeper they realize that not all job seekers with disabilities use the publicly funded system. In fact, people with disabilities find jobs just like everyone else -- through networking, word of mouth, through friends and family, etc.
After 20 years of working of trying to reconcile what businesses were telling us with what we were hearing from job seekers with disabilities we created Think Beyond the Label in 2010. Our objective is to provide that online network to connect businesses to qualified job seekers with disabilities, vis-à-vis our online job board, social platforms and community profiles. One-quarter of our 3,500 members have at least five years of relevant job experience; one in three have a professional certification or college level degree or beyond. That's an impressive talent pool for employers to dip into.
Disability-specific websites can also advance inclusive recruiting. DirectEmployers Association, a nonprofit trade association of large employers, operates the ".jobs" domain, where only verified job content is permitted. They build ".jobs" disability microsites for their members, such as Intercontinental Hotel Group, which operates and tracks applications that originate from this site. DirectEmployers also hosts microsites such as disability.jobs and workiniowa-disability.jobs.
Modern, inclusive recruiting also includes online career fairs, which are cost-effective and often orbit around targeted communities for better results. Employers can participate in online career fairs to engage with a built-in community of job seekers in real-time, using the event to fill jobs, build their pipelines or practice interviewing a person with a disability if they have never done so before. (Think Beyond the Label will host a free online career fair on October 16.)
Online job fairs give job seekers a chance to demonstrate how they will assimilate into an office or remote work environment using assistive technology. Virtual chats also reduce the need for typing long-form communications, which can be difficult for people with physical or cognitive disabilities. The best part is candidates don't have to reveal their disability, letting them keep the focus squarely on their skills and experience.
We already know technology is a great equalizer for people with disabilities. This is positive for the future of work, because people with disabilities add tremendous value to the workplace. They have low rates of absenteeism and turnover, which reduces a company's recruitment and retention costs. Also, companies that hire from this group can take advantage of tax incentives of up to $10,000 per employee per year, and more if hiring a veteran with a disability.
People with disabilities have had to adapt and creatively solve problems that others have not faced, and thus have innovative thinking and fresh perspectives that organizations need, which is valuable for product development, marketing, employee recruitment and enhancing teams. I like to tell businesses that if they want someone who thinks outside the box, hire someone who lives outside the box.
If more employers modernized their approach to recruiting and opened their minds to hiring job seekers with disabilities, we could move the needle on unemployment, and create a more inclusive workforce to power the new knowledge economy.
Barbara Otto is the principal of Think Beyond the Label, a private-public collaborative based in the U.S. that's working to build the pipeline of qualified job candidates with disabilities.