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DOL: Some Free Services Underutilized by Employers

By Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR  1/22/2009
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Most employers don’t know about—and therefore don’t use—free services available to help them recruit, accommodate and retain people with disabilities, according to a new report by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP).

According to the 2008 ODEP Survey of Employer Perspectives on the Employment of People with Disabilities, released Jan. 9, 2009, only 8 percent of respondents said they were aware of the Employer Assistance and Recruiting Network (EARN), a national toll-free telephone and electronic information referral service provided by ODEP to help employers locate and recruit qualified workers with disabilities. Just over 12 percent of those familiar with EARN have used its services.

Even fewer employers (7.4 percent) said they are familiar with the services of the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), another service provided by ODEP, staffed by experts who can provide specific guidance for employers trying to determine how to accommodate various disabilities. However, nearly 28 percent of those familiar with JAN have used its services.

And just one-quarter of respondents said they knew about one-stop career centers, state and local employment sites designed to provide assistance to job seekers and employers in one convenient location. Services vary by state and by web site but generally enable registered employers to post jobs online and search for candidates with and without disabilities that meet various specifications, such as level of education or salary range.

ODEP tapped CESSI, a division of Axiom Resource Management Inc., to conduct the survey of 3,797 companies which statistically represent more than 2.4 million companies nationwide.

Active Recruiting Reduces Barriers

Once an employer hires one person with a disability, it is much more likely that employer will hire other people with disabilities, the study found. It is also more likely that perceived barriers will be reduced as companies experience the reality of employing more people with disabilities.

Yet concerns remain.

Respondents were asked to indicate if challenges, such as supervisor or customer attitudes, inhibit their likelihood of hiring people with disabilities. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said the nature of the work involved was the top challenge they faced, while a lack of knowledge about the cost of accommodation came in second and an inability to find qualified people with disabilities came in third.

But companies that actively recruit people with disabilities are reportedly less likely to face such challenges than those who do not seek such candidates.  For example, just over 30 percent of companies who actively seek recruits with disabilities said that concerns about the cost of workers’ compensation premiums were a challenge, compared to over 50 percent of those who don’t actively recruit. A similar difference was reported for concerns about the cost of health care coverage.

Companies that actively recruit people with disabilities are also far less likely than other employers to raise concerns about costs, qualifications and safety, the report found. For example, just over a third of employers who actively recruit (36.3 percent) are concerned that workers with disabilities lack the skills and experience needed to do the job, compared to over half of other employers (51.4 percent).

Companies that actively recruit people with disabilities (13.6 percent of respondents) are most likely to do so by posting jobs at workforce employment centers, working with college and university career centers and by partnering with disability-related advocacy organizations.

Explain the Business Case

“This research shows us the pathway for workers with disabilities to enter and succeed in the workplace,” said ODEP Assistant Secretary Neil Romano in a press release.

However, ODEP reports that there is some resistance among businesses when it comes to advancing people with disabilities.

“While in many cases the front door has begun to open for people with disabilities seeking employment, unfortunately, all too often a glass ceiling still keeps these valuable employees in lower-level positions,” Romano added.

One way companies can generate internal support to recruit—and advance—people with disabilities is by ensuring front-line managers understand the benefits they can reap by doing so.

To further this effort ODEP has created a new online resource that articulates the business case for hiring people with disabilities. It is intended to facilitate a business-to-business dialogue in six areas: return on investment, human capital, innovation, marketing, diversity and social responsibility.

Those with experience recruiting people with disabilities told ODEP that employer tax credits and incentives, disability awareness training and visible top management commitment were the most important strategies to have in place for hiring people with disabilities.

Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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