We all know how tough it is to identify and hire good talent today. With unemployment rates at an all-time low in the U.S., we need to be highly strategic to attract talent to our organizations.
One strategic approach that I urge you to consider – if you haven’t already – is to target an often-ignored segment of the U.S. talent pool: disabled candidates. I prefer to call them people with special abilities.
Why does it make sense to hire people with special abilities?
Not only is attracting and hiring disabled candidates the right thing to do, it makes great fiscal sense too. People with special abilities are able to perform job functions with or without any accommodations. Like all recruitment, it’s about matching the skills needed in the job with those of the candidates.
For instance, individuals with autism often have a “splinter skill:” a skill set area that they are exceptionally proficient in. Some people with autism are extremely focused and can process large amounts of data, while others can process complex numbers quickly. Many who have declared they have autism spectrum have found great success as software engineers, data scientists, mechanics, and skilled technicians.
People with disabilities have proven to be consistent, dedicated employees. Many people with special abilities value routine, so they aren’t likely to call in sick to work without good cause or to be “job hoppers.” For this reason, disabled people typically make for very reliable long-term employees.
In my observations, hiring someone with a unique ability is great for employee morale. Employees find it encouraging to see their companies doing the right thing and are inspired to work harder too.
What Recruitment Marketing approaches work for attracting disabled candidates?
Adopting this strategy is a key business decision that will not only require buy-in from senior leadership; you will also have to be creative in how you attract this specialized talent to your organization.
Getting in front of this talent pool isn’t always as straightforward as with other more traditional talent segments.
Here are some ideas that have worked for me to get in front of candidates with special abilities:
Build partnerships in your local community.
Most cities have non-profit organizations with work readiness programs already in place. These agencies are typically tied to individuals with all levels of skills and abilities.
Consider joining an advisory council for that organization. You could also host events to support those with special needs, using your employee population to volunteer and help with the event planning and execution.
Establish an event that would allow someone with a disability to talk to other people in similar life situations, sharing their story of success. Offer seminars both internally and externally to help people learn more about how integrating people with special abilities can create success for an organization.
Focus on bringing value to the community and any partnerships you build. Because, quite frankly, the disability community can quickly sniff out if a company is just looking to fill a quota or hit a number.
Building meaningful relationships and doing good with local organizations goes a long way with this group in terms of building credibility and trust, as well as getting in front of great talent for your organization.
Create or participate in a disabled candidate hiring program
There are many programs that exist across the U.S. already that your organization might be able to benefit from as you begin developing a disabled hiring strategy.
For example, there’s a program from Project SEARCH called the Transition-to-Work Program. This program is a unique, business-led, one-year employment preparation program that takes place entirely at the workplace. Total workplace immersion facilitates a seamless combination of classroom instruction, career exploration, and hands-on training through worksite rotations. The program culminates in individualized job development.
In my personal experience, I partnered with Hope Network, a not-for-profit resource group for people living with disabilities, to put together an internship program for adults with disabilities within my organization. Similar to the Project Search structure, this program was dedicated to adults 20 years of age or older.
The program was a 16-week program conducted once per year, for four years, created for people who were already part of a work readiness development program through Hope Network.
Our intern positions spanned across the organization. Here are a few examples of the roles we filled with special needs interns each year:
- Administrative Assistants
- Human Resource Assistants – employee file management (including digital file creation)
- Data Analyst/Data Entry
- Mail Room Assistants
- Accounts Payable – invoice matches and reconciliation
- Marketing & Digital Imaging – online file management
- Facilities Maintenance and Custodial Staff
- Diesel Mechanics
- Warehouse Maintenance
Candidates for these internships were provided from Hope Network’s consumers who were already participating in work-readiness, skills training. This program was free to our company and fully funded by the Hope Network organization and other partners within the community.
We created the program with business needs in mind. A business sponsor would identify the job they wanted assigned to the intern, complete with a list of skills required to do the job.
Our Hope Network team would then identify individuals with the proper skill set (including excel and other technical needs) and match them to the internship position. The job coaches partnered with the managers to train, monitor, and ensure the success of each individual.
87% of those who have completed one of these internships are now employed in permanent positions both part time and full time, depending upon the person. One of our favorite hires here at my company, Nathan, was just featured in this Wall Street Journal post, sharing his success story.
Share stories about your community involvement, programs and events
You can create a wide range of content that spotlights your company’s participation with local organizations and any programs you might build. Here are some examples of content that might work well:
- Employee stories for your careers blog that feature people with special abilities doing great work at a job they love.
- Press releases and Facebook events for your professional development events geared at supporting the special needs community
- Videos describing the impact of any disabled hiring programs you put into play.
You can then share this content on your company or careers social channels and feature it on some of your digital profiles, like your careers website and LinkedIn or Glassdoor profile.
Highlighting these stories will help build trust and community within this very specific community. When people with disabilities see others like them within an organization, they are drawn to be part of your employee community.
Further, broadcasting this type of content will shed a positive light on your Employer Brand by communicating that your company cares about helping others and doing good. This will attract a wide array of talent segments beyond candidates living with disabilities.
All in all, creating programs and initiatives to attract and hire individuals with disabilities can be time consuming in the beginning. It takes a little momentum to socialize the benefits to your leaders, build a strategy, create partnerships and attract talent.
In my experience though, the time you put in will be well worth the effort. Disabled candidates are individuals who want to contribute to society, and when given the right job to do can have a powerful impact for your organization and culture.