To Fill the Talent Gap, Take a Fresh Look at the Overlooked

The U.S. has 6 million open jobs. Here's one way HR can help fill them.

By Henry G. Jackson Sep 28, 2016
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Henry G. JacksonThe number of U.S. job openings recently reached 5.9 million—an all-time high. Yet with an unemployment rate of under 5 percent, the nation is already near what many economic experts consider "full employment." As we look to explain why jobs are so hard to fill, we can expect a fresh wave of concern from politicians and pundits. Questions and opinions abound: Has the U.S. run out of willing workers? How do we get capable people off the sidelines and into the workforce? Is a skills gap to blame? Are wages too low?

It will indeed take a comprehensive approach to develop the nation’s talent pipeline for a better tomorrow. But as HR professionals, we need innovative solutions right now. In the October HR Magazine, we explore one part of the solution: tapping underemployed portions of the talent pool.

An estimated 65 million people in the U.S. have criminal histories. It’s a staggering statistic that has in part given rise to the "ban-the-box" movement calling for removal of the check box on applications asking candidates if they have ever been convicted of a crime. While the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) believes criminal background checks are an appropriate and important tool for employers, that doesn’t mean prior convictions should rule out candidates in all circumstances. Our cover story on considering job seekers with criminal histories thoughtfully covers the risks and rewards of sourcing talent from this segment of the population.

In "Companies See High Return in Employees with Autism," we look at another underemployed group with high potential. We feature companies that are rethinking the roles in which they engage people diagnosed with autism, who often end up in part-time, low-wage jobs even though they can be invaluable in higher-level technical positions. As we observe National Disability Employment Awareness Month this month, it’s a great time for employers to reflect on the contributions of people with disabilities, both visible and invisible, to the workforce.

Hiring people with criminal histories does not negate the need to manage risk and protect the reputations of our companies. Nor can employing workers with disabilities be only an altruistic endeavor; it must also help meet business needs. There are no easy answers, and the sensitivities and complexities of recruiting from these groups are real. SHRM has developed toolkits, best practices and partnerships to help you navigate the issues.

In today’s tightening labor market, we cannot afford to categorically exclude any talent. We need to be creative and resourceful. We must consider the possibility that some of the workers we need will not come ready-made with certain letters after their names and personal histories that neatly align with our expectations. In the end, we must simply evaluate each candidate on his or her own merits.

As HR business leaders, we will need to judiciously tap every available talent pool to fill the 6 million job openings in this country. We can start immediately by taking a fresh look at those who are too easily overlooked, underestimated or screened out. In doing so, we may find that we already have access to the only truly unlimited resource: human potential.

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