Obama Urges Employers to Hire the Long-Term Unemployed


By Bill Leonard January 31, 2014
SHRM President and CEO Hank Jackson, at right, meets with Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council and assistant to the president for economic policy, during a White House event to announce an initiative to reduce long-term unemployment.

More than 300 business leaders and elected officials from throughout the nation traveled to the White House on Jan. 31, 2014, to meet with President Barack Obama and discuss ways to expand and improve their efforts to recruit and hire the long-term unemployed.

“Every worker needs a fair and equal chance to find a job,” Obama said during the event. “Long-term unemployed workers need this chance to rejoin the workforce. So we need to find ways to look past long stretches of unemployment and see what the real skills and talent are there.”

The White House is asking private-sector employers to examine their corporate hiring practices and commit to eliminating discrimination against job applicants who have been unemployed for long stretches of time.

Some prominent U.S. employers, such as Wal-Mart, Apple, General Motors and Ford Motor Co., have already committed to the initiative. The president thanked the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Business Roundtable for developing and publishing a set of inclusive hiring policies and best practices for employers.

SHRM President and CEO Henry G. “Hank” Jackson attended the White House event to demonstrate the organization’s support for the administration’s initiative.

“It’s time for some of us to begin thinking differently,” Jackson said. “In one of the toughest economies the United States has ever seen, unemployment on a candidate’s resume is more of a white flag than a red one. Employers must be able to recognize the human capital potential in the ranks of the long-term unemployed.”

Volunteer SHRM members created a guide for HR professionals to help ensure their hiring practices don’t discriminate against the long-term unemployed and a guide for job-seekers to help them find jobs and interview well.

Acknowledging that the federal government needed to commit to the hiring initiative, Obama signed a presidential memorandum guaranteeing that his administration would work to adopt the same inclusive hiring policies and best practices. The president also announced a $150 million grant competition that will be administered by the Department of Labor (DOL) and is designed to support public-private partnerships that prepare and place long-term unemployed workers in open job positions. According to DOL officials, applications for the grant program will be available in February and awards will be made in mid-2014.

“We must do everything in our power to knock down barriers to re-employment and encourage all employers to rebuild America’s ladders of opportunity,” Obama said. “With all of your help, we can make this possible.”

After the president spoke, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker led two panel discussions on programs that are achieving the president’s goal of leveling the employment playing field for long-term unemployed workers. Skills for Chicagoland’s Future and Charlotte Works (in Charlotte, N.C.) have partnered with local businesses and community colleges to create training programs that provide workers with the skills employers need.

Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council and assistant to the president for economic policy, concluded the event by urging more businesses to commit to the initiative and to do what they can to increase the hiring of more long-term unemployed.

“Our hope is that this event is not the destination or culmination of this effort,” Sperling said, “but that it will have a larger and more significant impact.”

Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.

Related Resources:

The Long-Term Unemployed: How to Make Sure You Are Not Overlooking Skilled Talent, SHRM Online Staffing Management, January 2014

Best Practices for Recruiting and Hiring the Long-Term Unemployed statement

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