By Sheryl Estrada
The U.S. government wants to employ more individuals with disabilities not only to strengthen the federal workforce, but to strengthen the country as well, said Patricia A. Shiu, director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) at the U.S. Department of Labor.
“The nation and the workforce are strongest when we embrace diversity, and when all workers can apply their unique skills and talents to jobs that provide fair wages, benefits and safe working conditions,” Shiu told DiversityInc.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was revised in 2013, adding Section 503, which establishes a nationwide 7 percent utilization goal for qualified individuals with disabilities, and updated regulations that prohibit federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating in employment of people with disabilities. Employers also are required to take affirmative action to recruit, hire, promote and retain these individuals.
Shiu explained that prior to 2013 the regulations were last updated in the 1970s, when little, if any, data was collected regarding the decision-making recruitment efforts of federal contractors. The Labor Department has given contractors a chance to prepare for the changes. However, Shiu has made it clear to contractors the transition period is ending and the regulations will be enforced in 2016.
“Many of these so-called ‘discouraged workers’ — or, as I prefer to call them, ‘prospective workers’ — can be valuable assets in workplaces across our county.
Over time, we expect enforcement of our regulations to help increase the number of people with access to job opportunities and real jobs that pay a fair wage.”
Citing the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Shiu said 17.1 percent of people with a disability were employed in 2014, while the unemployment rate for people with a disability was 12.5 percent that same year, about twice the figure of 5.9 percent for those with no disability.
Shiu said beyond the federal government, private companies should also realize the business value of employing the millions of working-age Americans with disabilities.
“I think companies need to understand that this isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do,” she said. “Ensuring fairness is the best way to attract and retain good workers, to increase productivity and to open up new markets or expand a company’s customer base.”
For more than 30 years, the National Organization on Disability (NOD) has championed advancing opportunities in the workplace for people with disabilities.
“As American industry faces growing talent shortages with the retiring of Baby Boomers (or as they age into disability), and industry turns to new, previously untapped sources of labor, people with disabilities are often overlooked,” said NOD President Carol Glazer. “This is a terrible mistake, since the problem solving skills, tenacity, persistence and sheer determination that it takes to navigate a world that wasn’t built for you are assets that can be trained toward higher productivity in the workforce.”
Last year, NOD expanded into corporate services supported by a $1 million lead corporate grant from the Prudential Foundation (Prudential Financial is No. 10 on the 2016 DiversityInc Top 50). A for-profit service enterprise is currently available to companies seeking not only to hire but also retain employees with disabilities.
“This year, NOD disability employment professionals will use data from the Disability Employment Tracker to provide a far more robust report known as a Disability Inclusion Accelerator,” Glazer said. NOD uses benchmarking data to produce a free, confidential assessment of disability and veteran inclusion practices to produce a report that shows results in five key areas of disability workforce inclusion: Climate and Culture, Identifying and Sourcing Talent, Onboarding, Performance Management and Tracking and Measurement.
“That’s a customized report containing benchmarks on all 80 questions in the Tracker, an action plan with recommended ‘quick wins,’ as well as medium and long term recommendations, based on our knowledge, data from other companies and best practices culled from all the available research on practices that have proven effective,” Glazer explained. “The Accelerator provides not only an action plan but a tool that uses quantitative measures on how a company stacks up against others in the pool of more than 100 companies that can be used to get buy-in from senior executives.”
Additionally, NOD’s Disability Hiring Engagements service uses subject-matter experts to work with companies to assess policies, recommend improvements, train employees and create pipelines to the best sourcing channels.
NOD has helped many companies hire individuals with disabilities, and Glazer offers some tips hiring managers can use:
Make an initial hire and see what it’s like. Most companies who make that first hire realize that people with disabilities possess remarkable skills. The data indicates that. But companies have to experience it themselves, just like PwC (No. 5) and Prudential have done.
Employers need to understand that people with disabilities represent a well-educated talent pool. In an era when skills in STEM fields are in short supply, companies should look at the untapped pool of college-educated people with disabilities, who often possess these skills.
Learn from other employers who’ve had successes. New this year, recipients of the NOD Employer Seal of Approval will be announced in May on NOD.org.
Create an inclusive culture, which is critical to attract the workforce of the future. Research by Deloitte (No. 11) shows the next generation of employees will expect an inclusive and cognitively diverse workplace that supports engagement, empowerment and authenticity