Nearly 40% of employers are having challenges hiring qualified employees, while at the same time one in four people in the U.S. have some type of disability and are facing challenges in getting hired. Some disabilities are visible, and some are hidden—medical conditions and mental health, learning, and cognitive disabilities. As a country, we have a large population “aging into disability,” and veterans with disabilities returning to the civilian workforce.
I am often asked about the types of jobs a person with a disability can do, and my answer is always the same—"What do you have?” The talent pool of is wide and diverse: in educational focus, degrees, professional certifications, work experience, and skills. We’ve hired for positions in administrative and sales roles, skilled trades, warehouse and logistics and management.
We work with companies to cast a wide net to find talent with disabilities. A large percentage of this population is not found within traditional health and human services networks, but is out there everywhere like the rest of us. Developing an inclusive reputation as a company or brand is key to attracting talent through social media, on diverse job boards and within the secondary and higher education community.
Colleges, trade schools and high schools across the country are graduating an emerging workforce with disabilities, ready to work in a variety of fields. Just one example of a college partner is the National Technical Insitute for the Deaf (NTID) at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). More than 1,100 students come to the NTID each year enrolled in associate’s, bachelor’s and graduate degree programs. This represents only a percentage of students with disabilities enrolled at RIT each year and entering the workforce with graduate and undergraduate degrees.
People with disabilities bring unique perspectives and life experiences to the workplace, contributing new ideas and innovative approaches to problem-solving and processes. They can inform the development of accessible user interfaces and language and imagery that can attract talent with disabilities, train colleagues on positive customer service approaches, and contribute to accessible product development.
Here is just one small example of many: An employee with a cognitive disability recently used an app with a checklist builder to send prompts of all the tasks he needed to do before moving on to the next task. He shared this tool with his supervisor. This tool was implemented with all his colleagues and resulted in increases in quality and productivity.
PepsiCo's Las Vegas Project
We began working with PepsiCo in late 2013 with the launch of Pepsi ACT (Achieving Change Together) initiative. The goal? To attract and hire talent with disabilities across the country, including veterans, to meet their workforce needs.
Developed as a national model for next-generation hiring practices, ACT has since become a part of Pepsi’s overall talent strategy. Filling job opportunities across all career and experience levels, to date, the ACT model has been implemented across nine U.S. cities, with over 1,400 employees hired to date.
One of our first tasks was to help completely staff PepsiCo’s Certified Center in Las Vegas. One of three centers in the country focused on refurbishing Pepsi equipment—coolers, vending machines and fountain machines—it was a new design and build. The equipment arrives at the facility and is either scrapped for parts or taken apart and put back together and certified for use.
Available positions included utility/forklift technician, a non-technical role responsible for tasks involved in the refurbishment of marketing equipment, such as cleaning, disassembly, repetitive reassembly and the movement of equipment throughout the production process.
Pepsi also needed to fill technical roles, including certified center technician I/II, responsible for the diagnosis, troubleshooting, repairing and testing of equipment. The position requires a high level of understanding of electrical and mechanical concepts, and the ability to perform the required repairs.
Candidates needed mechanical aptitude, the ability to pass OEM certification tests and a good work, attendance and safety history. Desirable skills included basic to mid-level experience with electrical systems, metal fabrication, paint booth systems or chemical handling (sanding, metal repair, paint spray systems, etc.) Basic refrigeration or mechanical systems skills or basic household repair, plumbing or electric were also desirable.
Pepsi tapped into the targeted network of talent partners we developed for them, including the Nevada Department of Employment, Trainng and Rehabilitation and U.S. veterans agencies included the Wounded Warrior Project. We also helped facilitate direct advertising to jobseekers with disabilities. This resulted in a pipeline of qualified applicants in enough volume to meet their hiring needs.
Our team also worked with the Pepsi site leader to put in place a training program that offered education in both the soft and hard skills required.
The facility opened in September 2014, with 21 new employees with disabilities representing just under 50% of the total hires, and veterans with disabilities representing 20% of those hires, including one manager.
Julio Padilla, manager of PepsiCo’s Vegas Certified Center, championed the ACT hiring initiative. "We’ve hired incredible workers—willing and eager to learn, and focused on productivity and meeting team goals," said Padilla. "It didn't take me long to realize that I wasn't hiring people with disabilities, I was hiring the best people for the job."
People with disabilities in the United States alone represent an annual spending power of $645 billion. Their friends and families represent another $4 trillion in annual spending. This is both a talent and customer market that businesses want to engage. When your employees can give you a unique lens to a customer market, they can inform advertising, product development, customer service, and more.
This is not about charity, but about smart business. Our clients range across industries, from Polaris and Aramark to American Express and Aon. These companies are seeing real business results. They are realizing cost savings on recruiting costs, and productivity wins with an average 14% higher retention rate, much quicker rates of hiring – filling key positions faster, and higher rates of “self-disclosure” (50+ % higher) which is important for compliance for government contractors and demonstrates a positive and inclusive work culture.
What type of jobs can a person with a disability do? The answer is in the results.
Kristine Foss, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is the managing director of nonprofit Disability Solutions, the national consulting division of Ability Beyond. Disability Solutions creates customized plans for companies to strengthen their workforce by hiring and retaining talent with disabilities.
*The subheading to this story originally misstated the number of employees with disabilities hired in Las Vegas. There are 21 in Las Vegas.