Disability Matters

Turning to People with Disabilities to Reduce Turnover

Some positions experience high turnover for one of two reasons: Competition makes it difficult to keep highly skilled labor or the job is entry level and employees move on to other positions. One solution is close to home: Hire and retain people with disabilities who are ready for employment opportunities.
— By Karen White

Keeping some positions filled is proving to be a difficult challenge for businesses. They are positions on both ends of the skills continuum – high-skilled and entry-level jobs. There is enormous demand for people with high–skill levels, and people in entry–level positions are usually looking for jobs with career opportunities.

Businesses with these types of positions may have a partial solution close to home – hiring people with disabilities. Companies continue to struggle with overcoming unconscious bias and misconceptions about people with disabilities, harming their talent management efforts and creating continued barriers to the employment of people with disabilities.

Dispelling the Myths
The biases against people with disabilities reads like a list of myths. There are few people with disabilities able to assume highly skilled positions. Sometimes, hiring people with disabilities lead to higher labor costs. Sometimes people with disabilities have to take frequent leave time due to medical issues; require expensive accommodations; and are not interested in a career, so investing training money does not make sense.

Of course, one of the facts is that people with disabilities often make people uncomfortable because Americans frequently do not know how to interact with them. They may talk loudly when talking to a blind person and do not know whether to provide assistance with doors to people in wheelchairs. It is easier to avoid someone with a disability than to overcome the biases.

These biases are keeping highly qualified people with disabilities out of the job market when businesses are struggling to reduce turnover in certain positions that include high-skilled and entry-level positions. The biases lead employers to believe that people with disabilities are not qualified for the high-skilled jobs and will cost too much in low-skilled jobs due to accommodations and pre-conceived lower productivity.

Northrop Grumman, Starbucks and AT&T are just three companies that would beg to differ with these perspectives. All three corporations have strong programs to attract and retain workers with disabilities in high-end skilled and hourly positions. Ernst & Young hires people with disabilities for technical positions because they bring new perspectives, have well–honed problem–solving skills, are highly adaptable in environments where change is ongoing, and increase morale and engagement in the workforce.

Time to Paint a New Picture
Here is a surprising fact: Arthur Young chose to start an accounting business – Ernst & Young – when unable to successfully practice law because he had low vision and was deaf. Today, there are morethan 21 million working-age people with disabilities, and the unemployment rate is rising instead of declining. Despite the lead of companies that have proven the benefits of hiring and retaining people with disabilities, the statistics continue to paint a disappointing picture.

The most recent numbers indicate, as of 2015, that 34 percent of working age (18-64) people with disabilities are employed compared to 76.0 percent for people without disabilities. The employment gap has widened over the last eight years from 38.8 to 41.1 percent. The median earnings of people with disabilities over the age of 16 was $21,572, compared to $31,874 for people without disabilities. The disparity gap in earnings grew during the 2013-2015 period.

The numbers are frustrating because so many people with disabilities are looking for skilled work or any work that offers a career path. Report after report says there is an urgent demand for qualified job candidates across all industries but not enough qualified people applying. The Bureau of Labor Statistics employment numbers for 2015 show that no matter what education level was achieved, persons with a disability were much less likely to be employed than without disabilities.

Abilities of People with Disabilities Are Undiscovered
Bias and lack of knowledge about the abilities of people with disabilities is preventing millions of people from getting jobs they are qualified to manage. There are many subtle barriers to employment.

For example, a company has an online application that a sight-impaired person can complete with assistive devices, but the company does not include the contact information for Human Resources personnel so the person is unable to get help completing the offline part of the application process. Companies interview people with disabilities but never hire them. Businesses may hire job applicants with disabilities in low–end jobs but never give them opportunities to advance.

People with disabilities have a record of excellent job performance, high retention rates, critical thinking skills, excellent ability to adapt to fluid situations, and the ability to connect businesses with new markets. Employers frustrated with high turnover rates in certain positions are likely overlooking a key source of job applicants – people with disabilities.

There is a growing number of sources for finding qualified people with disabilities. One of the largest is the Job Accommodation Network, operated by the U.S. Department of Labor to facilitate the employment and retention of people with disabilities. State vocational offices are good sources, and there are many private employment agencies serving people with disabilities, like abilityJOBS.

Changing Perspectives
However, employers need to change their perspectives and realize that people with disabilities are also attending colleges and universities. A common recommendation made to employers searching for highly skilled diverse job applicants, especially for STEM positions, is to partner with educational facilities. The same process can be used to attract people with disabilities.

Higher education institutions have approximately 11 percent of undergraduates reporting a disability per the National Center for Education Statistics. Most institutions now have support services for people with disabilities and are always ready to partner with potential employers.

To change the employment statistics of people with disabilities and reduce turnover, employers need to eliminate bias in the recruitment and retention process, strengthen a culture of inclusion, dispel myths, and change perspectives.

Instead of thinking that hiring someone with a disability is "the right thing to do," employers should be asking, "What people with disabilities can bring to the workplace?" The answer in this case is the right skills and lower turnover.