In today’s workforce, one issue that has arisen is a shortage of skilled workers to meet the demands of an ever-evolving and highly competitive marketplace.
Employers should be delighted to know that there is still an untapped pool of talent: individuals with disabilities. Nicholas Goh, CEO of Verztec Consulting Pte Ltd (http://www.verzteclearning.com) makes the case for hiring disabled employees.
The story of Temple Grandin is a remarkable one. Growing up in the 1950s, a time when little headway was made in the field of autism, Grandin was often ostracized because of her habit to repeat herself. Despite her poor conversational ability, her mind was a gifted one and she possessed a flair for thinking in pictures. Today she is a celebrated professor and animal rights activist. Her name is attached to the livestock handling facilities designed specifically to reduce the stress that animals feel when they are being handled.
Grandin is just one of the many special needs people who have defied all expectations to do well for themselves. Stephen Hawking, British theoretical physicist and renowned author, has been living with motor neuron disease since the age of 21. These success stories debunk the very myth that people with disabilities are incapable of performing competently.
Yet in 2011, a study published in the 2011 December issue of the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation in the United States titled “Why Don’t Employers Hire and Retain Workers with Disabilities?“ found that 41.8% of the respondents had doubts about the necessary skills and expertise of job applicants with disabilities. 53.3% of them admitted to being prejudiced while 40.9% believed they are potentially problematic employees. For the purpose of the study, the researchers involved only employers known to be reluctant to hire and accommodate employees with disabilities.
Another reason for their reluctance: the perceived cost of providing accommodations to help assimilate employees with disabilities. This concern has been proven to be unfounded. In “Workplace Accommodations: Low Cost, High Impact”, a 2012 report by the Job Accommodation Network, a service of the United States Department of Labour, 336 out of 590 (57%) said the accommodations needed by employees cost absolutely nothing. Of those accommodations that did have a cost, the typical one-time expenditure by employers was just USD500.
Despite hardly a dint on corporate financial resources, some countries dangle financial carrots to encourage employment of the disabled. Since 2007, Singapore has offered the Open Door Fund to employers who incur cost in apprenticeships and workplace modifications for the disabled. In addition, under the Special Employment Credit initiative, employers receive 16% wage subsidy on the salary of a disabled employee who earns up to SGD1,500; lower for salaries between SGD1,500 and SGD4,000.
Incentives aside, a campaign in Singapore calls for a more inclusive society. Helmed by the National Council of Social Service, the public is invited to make pledges of action to enhance the lives of persons with disabilities. An employer could pledge to hire a person or persons with disabilities.
An article featured in The Straits Times (Singapore) in December 2012 revealed that fast-food chain KFC, which has hired roughly 300 people over the last 10 years, has benefited from the government subsidies. According to Chief Executive Michael Gian, KFC offers a variety of job scopes and has redesigned its work stations to suit their needs.
“Levelling the Playing Field: Attracting, Engaging and Advancing People with Disabilities”, a 2013 study by The Conference Board and School of Industrial and Labour Relations in the United States, found that there are numerous benefits —beyond tax incentives— to hiring people with disabilities. The intangible benefits include increased office morale, customer interaction and attendance.
The study also shed light on successful companies such as Walgreens which manages a chain of drugstores focused on health and wellness. Walgreens is a fervent advocate of hiring special needs employees. In 2003, when it had plans for a new distribution centre in Anderson, South Carolina, the company made a conscious effort to ensure one-third of its workforce was made up of disabled personnel who had problems finding a job. These employees were held to the same productivity and workplace standards as their counterparts. In a post-mortem analysis, the said centre performed 20% more efficiently than the other centres.
Admiration, Support & Loyalty
The study also found that 87% of consumers preferred to work with companies that hire disabled workers. This fact is one that Home Depot has long been privy to.
Home Depot co-founder, Ken Langone, launched Ken’s Kids in 1997 to help young adults with developmental disabilities find jobs and learn to become productive workers. Following the rollout of this initiative, the company received federal support and garnered praise from other companies. In the eyes of its customers, the company is family, a sentiment that then-district HR manager Debbie Kiedeisch shared with the Society for Human Resource Management in 2010.
So, from a business standpoint, is it prudent to hire people with disabilities? Well, it does seem that the pros of hiring people with disabilities far outweigh the cons, if there are even any at all. The key, then, is to find a way to accommodate their needs – without making concessions to work standards – and then treat them as equals.