There’s An Untapped Pool of Skilled People You Don’t Even Consider

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Jan 16, 2020

As we step into a new year and a new decade, HR and talent acquisition professionals will be faced with a slew of both new challenges and new opportunities as the nature of the workforce and workplace changes. One of those challenges is the growing gap between the number of jobs available and the number of workers available to fill those jobs.

By 2030, 12 of the world’s 15 largest economies are projected to face a labor shortage.There are now record-high labor shortages in Japan, Germany, and China, and in the United States, we have a surplus of over 1.7 million jobs that our workforce cannot fill. As global economies seek to continue a streak of growth amid concerns of a slowdown, organizations will need to reach into untapped talent pools to drive this growth. Two major underutilized demographic groups are poised to turn the tide – workers over age 55 and individuals with disabilities.

People are living longer and retiring later, with one in four people aged 65 and older currently in the workforce. These adults make up the fastest-growing group of workers in the United States, and more than 30% of Americans over age 65 have some kind of disability. More broadly, an estimated 15% of the world’s population (~1 billion people) live with a disability, including nearly 40 million Americans.

Despite the size of these demographic groups, unemployment among people with disabilities can reach up to 80% in some countries. If organizations continue to overlook older workers and people with disabilities, they will miss out on a crucial talent pool that is eager to participate in the labor force.

Expanding accessibility

Recruiting, developing, and retaining employees from these groups will require a new set of HR considerations in 2020 and beyond. To enable these workers to thrive, business leaders will need to expand their definitions of diversity, inclusion, and accessibility to account for the unique needs of these two populations. For example, 31% of people with disabilities work part time, compared with 17% for people without a disability, and two-thirds of people aged 45-74 report having experienced or observed age discrimination at work. These circumstances mean organizations will need to extend the scope of accessibility beyond ADA-required accommodations to include access to new opportunities.

HR leaders will need to adjust D&I initiatives to explicitly include workers with both visible and invisible disabilities, and invest in both accessible technologies and physical work facilities. Technology can complement the capabilities of these workers, while thoughtful design considerations can make workplaces and transportation to work accessible.

Inclusion will require change

Another inclusive consideration is introducing more flexible work arrangements that allow for cyclical or intermittent work, which is not the same as seasonal work. For example, a retiree returning to the workforce – a “returnee,” if you will – may want to work for a couple of months at a time, leave for another few months, and then come back for another two-month assignment. Companies are not currently set up to accommodate a schedule like this one, so HR leaders have an opportunity to work with these workers to develop a system that works well both for the business and the employee.

For people with invisible disabilities, including people on the autism spectrum, it can sometimes be difficult to get a job simply because of the way the interview process is run. So much of the interview process is based on largely subjective initial impressions, often built on what we consider to be “good people skills,” such as eye contact or the ease with which someone can carry a casual conversation. If a non-neurotypical candidate comes off as less approachable in an interview setting, the likelihood of that person being hired by a neurotypical interviewer drops significantly, creating another barrier to employment for people with disabilities. Combating this issue requires some of the same D&I considerations we’ve implemented to reduce other hiring biases, such as conducting blind interviews or evaluating candidates on the specific qualifications that are critical for a particular role, rather than on assumptions around cultural fit or personality.

Massive opportunity

As companies such as Domino’s and IBM have found, ignoring the needs of people with disabilities and older people can be costly. While organizations should be aware of the financial dangers associated with shutting out these segments of the population, they should also be optimistic about the massive opportunity presented by bringing these demographic groups into the workforce. By making thoughtful HR shifts in 2020, leaders have the chance to drive tremendous growth while including and empowering a crucial segment of our global community.