By Jim Hasse
As we prepare for Disability Employment Awareness Month
2012, we know that data released from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in August 2012 show that, while employment for most
of the U.S workforce is slowly recovering, the employment situation for people
with disabilities has lagged.
The number of working-age Americans without disabilities participating in the
labor force grew by almost three million during the past year. During the same
period, the number of workers with disabilities declined by 94,000.
But let's step back a bit from the usual, and warranted, consternation about
current disability employment levels. Instead, let's take this time to assess
the current needs of the job market and turn those updated needs into new
opportunities for both talented jobseekers who happen to have disabilities and
within many of our nation's leading companies know the following statement to
rob, for the Works for Me article, can you have the jump link say "Continue Reading, Watch Video, and Comment"
disabilities who are effectively recruited, trained and promoted bring to
workplace teams these qualities:
Reduced missed days of
Increased awareness of
and appreciation for unique customer needs.
creative and innovative energy.
Together, these attributes add up to increased productivity, the real
bottom-line benefit of workforce inclusion. It means that employers with the
savvy to find talented jobseekers with disabilities who can show work results
based on these high-in-demand but often low-in-supply personal qualities will
likely be the most successful in the years to come.
But, let's not stop there.
The New Reality
Jobseekers with disabilities need to recognize that
today's employers are facing at least three new recruiting problems, according
to John Liptak, Ed.D., Associate Director Career Services, Radford University,
Radford, VA. Here's how Liptak describes these recruiting challenges:
- Employers are unable to fill vacant jobs.
- Employers are not able to hire workers with the
- Jobs are changing so quickly that workers need
basic skills for a variety of tasks.
Why are jobs going
unfilled when our nation's unemployment is so high? Liptak has been studying
the survival and success rate of people entering the workforce since 2006.
He says the U.S. workplace is still in a transition
from what he calls the "traditional" model to a "high performance" model. The
"employability" skills required for this new work environment have changed as a
result, but our educational system is not fully preparing future jobseekers for
In May of 1990, a U.S. Department of Labor committee
launched a comprehensive study about how well schools prepare young people for
the workforce. Titled the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills
(SCANS), this extensive work gave American business, for the first time, a
platform to clearly communicate to educators what students need to know in
order to be successful in the workplace.
The SCANS Report concluded that "... more than 50 percent of our young
people leave school without the knowledge or foundation required to find and
hold a good job."
Obviously, that caused quite a stir in education
because school boards, administrators, and teachers realized our nation's
students were not learning what they needed to know in order to be prepared for
the workforce of the 21st century.
This problem, the report said, stems from the fact
that today's working environment, focused on information, service, and communication,
is vastly different than the industrial workplace of the early 1900s - due, in
part, to advances in technology and competition from countries abroad. The
report called for a whole new approach to education, involving a switch from
basic-skill learning to development of thinking skills.
Yesterday's traditional workplaces were centrally
controlled and marked by mass production and fragmented tasks performed by
employees who had minimal qualifications and training and who were encouraged
to "specialize" in their careers. Advancement was by seniority.
Today's high-performance work environment is
characterized by flexible production, decentralized control, work teams, and
multi-skilled workers. Training is available to anyone, and advancement is based
on certification of skill sets.
In short, today's employers are seeking employees
with thinking skills and individuals who work well with others (and learn with
others) so they can solve problems on a series of projects. And, increasingly,
individuals find themselves "hiring out" their skills on a contractual basis to
a variety of "employers."
Liptak observes that there are still "deficits" in
thinking skills, resource management, information skills, interpersonal skills
and systems management - all what the SANS Report calls "employability skills"
(skills which are not technical but which cut horizontally across all
industries and vertically across all jobs).
One example of an employability skill is the ability
to work cooperatively with others to solve real issues.
Filling the Void
Anytime I see a gap between need and capability in
the general labor force, I see opportunities for talented jobseekers with
disabilities who are fully prepared to fill that void. For employers, I also
see an opportunity to fill that void by recruiting talented, prepared
individuals with disabilities, a largely untapped resource with only 37 percent of
working-age adults with disabilities participating in the labor force,
according to BLS statistics.
And, for some occupations, this gap is being filled
by savvy, talented individuals with disabilities. For example, the employment rate for scientists and engineers with
disabilities is 83 percent, much better than the estimated 37 percent
for the overall U.S. population with disabilities, according to the American Association for
the Advancement of Science.
In fact, pursuing a STEM career (such as process
engineer, which uses knowledge of science, technology, electronics and math in
integrated ways) is well worth the effort. It fits the new paradigm of
multi-skilled employees who work under decentralized authority and who can
transfer skills among a variety of occupations and industries.
Process engineering jobs, by the way, often go
unfilled due to lack of qualified applicants.
If there are jobs open because there are not enough
people qualified with the new "employability skills" to fill them, those are
the jobs for which I would prepare and seek - particularly because, as a person
with cerebral palsy, I have learned how to effectively manage my disability by
working with others. And I know how to transfer those attributes to on-the-job
Look at a few of the key skill deficits Liptak says
he still finds in individuals entering the workforce. I'll give you examples of
how a jobseeker with a disability can cite work/volunteer/care management
experience for turning those nation-wide deficits into personal competitive
advantages he or she can use to get hired.
- "I creatively came up with technology-based solutions to address my walking
and talking disabilities by visualizing preferred outcomes, learning about the
options I had and carrying out the steps needed to realize those outcomes."
Personal Qualities - "I have effectively managed a series of paid personal
assistants during the last five years with integrity and authenticity through
honest, open communication."
Resource Management - "I managed time, money and materials in a six-month
advocacy effort for people with disabilities who were in need of local
- "I chaired a committee which studied and recommended note-taking options to
add as a disabled student service at a local, private college."
Notice these so-called new employability skills are
competencies that stem from the four productivity attributes I first listed
above. These competencies have already been proven, though decades of study, to
be competencies an employer gains by hiring individuals with disabilities.
So, what was true in the last century is even more so
in the 21st. A strong workforce includes individuals who have disabilities.
It's a personal marketing approach you can use, if you're a person with a
disability who is seeking a job. In using that approach, you're recognizing the
current 50 percent gap between the need and availability of key
employability skills and taking steps to add these competencies to your
portfolio so you can position yourself as a valued job candidate.
If you're an employer, Disability Employment Awareness Month can serve as a
reminder of why individuals with disabilities need be included in your employee
recruitment efforts. In beefing up your disability employment efforts, you'll
not just do the right thing. You'll also strengthen your company's
competitiveness and bottom line results by addressing the current 50 percent
gap between the need and availability of key employability skills.
One of the best ways to close that gap between the need and availability of key
employability skills in your own workforce is to include talented people with
Copyright © 2012. Hasse Communication Counseling. All rights reserved.
Jim Hasse, ABC, GCDF, (www.jimhasse.com) has compiled and edited the recommendations of HR experts and the personal observations of both job seekers and hiring managers into Perfectly Able: How to Attract and Hire Talented People with Disabilities (www.perfectlyable.com), a comprehensive disability recruitment guidebook for hiring managers published by AMACOM (September 2010), the publishing arm of the American Management Association. Lighthouse International (www.lighthouse.org), New York City, is the author of the 272-page hard-cover book, which continues to evolve online on Hasse's forum, Timely Tips for Retaining Employee Talent (forum.perfectlyable.com). Jim is founder of www.cerebral-palsy-career-builders.com,
the comprehensive career coaching guide for parenting youngsters seven to 27
years old who have cerebral palsy.