Facing a frontline labor shortage? Try this proven workforce: people with disabilities

Darelyn Pazdel, VP of workforce inclusion at PRIDE Industries, says hiring people with disabilities isn't difficult - especially with the help CHROs get through work groups:

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Jun 5, 2024

If you’re facing a frontline labor shortage, I’d like you to consider a proven, but often overlooked source of workers.

People with disabilities.


Yes, proven.

Proven business benefits

Studies have shown there are ample business benefits to hiring people with disabilities.

A landmark 2018 Accenture study of companies that actively employ and support people with disabilities found that these companies enjoy the following financial outcomes compared to peer organizations:

  • 28% more revenue
  • 2x more net income
  • 30% more economic profit

But it gets better. A 2023 update from Accenture also concluded: “the business case for hiring persons with disabilities has become even stronger.” It found companies that actively employ and support people with disabilities now achieve even better business outcomes compared to peers – benefits such as:

  • 6x more revenue
  • 6x more net income
  • 2x more economic profit

OK, so I know what you might now be thinking. Perhaps it’s something along the lines of: “I’d love to be more inclusive and experience the benefits of this workforce, but I don’t know how to recruit, train, and manage employees with disabilities.”

I’ve got great news for you. You don’t have to.

Supported employment through work groups

 Many state rehabilitation program departments have programs that specifically offer supported employment help in the form of work groups, allowing business to easily employ people with disabilities through employment partners.

Here’s how work groups, well, work.

  • Groups of three-to-four employees whose employment goals and experience match the opportunity are grouped with an embedded coach that provides on-the-job support. Employers can scale up or scale back with these groups as business needs change.
  • The partner agency serves as the employer of record, taking on the recruiting, hiring, training, payroll, compliance, supervision, and quality control work – thus eliminating management overhead for the business where the employees will work.

Supported work groups offer a staffing solution that has been proven to be effective across industries, offering all kinds of business benefits. Employers get:

  • Pre-screened, qualified applicants
  • Guaranteed staffing levels
  • Tailored and scalable assistance that suits different shifts, schedules, and seasons
  • Supervision by a trained employment coach
  • Payroll, workers’ compensation, and liability insurance are covered
  • Options to convert work group employees to direct hires if desired, and even these hired employees are still eligible for job coaching.

A perfect fit

The work group model works well for seasonal jobs where labor demand fluctuates, but they can be scaled up and back as needed.

Knee Deep Brewing Company CEO Jerry Moore has engaged work groups on his packaging line off-and-on for years. “

We had trouble finding reliable, hardworking employees to do our work,” owner Jerry Moore says. But it was the quality and the attitude of his disabled employees that consistently impress Moore.

“The first thing that surprised me was how happy they were to be here,” Moore said.

“They show up on time, work hard, are a lot of fun, and have turned out to be a perfect fit.”

Treated like family

Employees with disabilities in supported work groups typically show lower absenteeism and turnover.

That is in part because the model fosters teamwork and camaraderie. Employees tend to work together with peers and with a coach on hand to answer questions or troubleshoot, operations typically run smoothly.

Viejas Resort and Casino in Southern California (above), has about 20 employees with disabilities and has utilized work groups for more than a decade.

Mike, an employee with a developmental disability, was recently featured on San Diego’s CBS 8 News for providing a decade of “hard work” to Viejas says: “I would like to work here at the casino for 10 more years.” So valued is this team that they are “treated like family,” according to Viejas management.

Mutual appreciation

One has to remember, that employees with disabilities are often very loyal to employers that give them a chance – precisely because they have faced persistent barriers to employment throughout their lives.

The opportunity to add value to an organization, be in the community and earn a paycheck is not lost on these people and many show their appreciation with dedication and positive attitudes.

The appreciation is mutual. At the US Forest Service’s Regional Headquarters on Mare Island, California, a work group keeps the organization’s facilities clean and tidy.

“The Forest Service throws parties for our employees out there,” said Sean, the team’s employment coach. “Because they keep the place immaculate.”

A recent inspection of the facility rated the team’s work at a near-perfect 99%. “The employees really know what they’re doing,” said Sean. “They could train me on the job.”

Low risk, high reward

The presence of employment coaches and the support offered by partner agencies make this staffing model low risk for employers looking for alternative talent sources.

Coaches also help educate managers and co-workers about working with people with disabilities and facilitate communication to prevent misunderstandings.

There can be some initial ramp up time to staff up – but that’s the same as with any new employee to a job.

A vision of inclusion

When we focus on ability (rather than disability) ,and remove barriers and bias, it is always much easier to find the right person for the right job.

Progressive employers realize that hiring people with disabilities isn’t that difficult, nor is it much different from hiring anyone else. They just have to assess skills and goals, find the right position, and provide the support they need to succeed.

“We’re all one team, and everyone enjoys working together,” said Dean Roberts, Brewmaster at Knee Deep Brewing. You don’t even think about the disability part anymore.”

And that’s the way it should be.

Work groups can serve as training wheels to help businesses directly hire more diverse candidates in the future and find more employees who are a perfect fit.