Fear of following the wrong hiring procedure often deters employers from moving forward with job candidates who have disabilities, according to Lynn Kirkbride, director of affiliate relations for the U.S. Business Leadership Network.
Employers also hesitate to hire individuals with disabilities as they believe they must first know everything about every disability, Kirkbride said.
“Fear continues to be the number one barrier to getting people employed,” she said.
A workforce solutions collaborative comprised of local nonprofit agencies is hoping to quell workplace fear as it advocates for the development of a USBLN chapter in the greater Milwaukee area.
USBLN operates as a national nonprofit organization that touts disability inclusion in the workplace in order to spur business performance and growth. The organization, which has close to 40 sites across 26 states, invites businesses into the conversation on hiring employees with disabilities and provides them a safe place to openly address their concerns and questions about the hiring and training process.
“Until businesses feel more comfortable and understand how to recruit, hire, retain, accommodate and those kinds of things for people with disabilities, they’re not going to hire them,” Kirkbride said.
At the heart of affiliate USBLN organizations is a mission to coach employers on best practices surrounding hiring and training individuals with disabilities. USBLN organizations facilitate a variety of programming to meet the needs of participating businesses and employees.
While some organizations feature a mentoring component, others hold awards and recognition events, run business-to-business trainings, and bring in guest speakers to educate business executives about specific disabilities or accommodations to be made in the workplace. Some USBLN chapters partner with other organizations to run career and resource fairs. Select chapters also offer onsite training for employers so they fully understand the hiring and training process of staff members with disabilities.
On a national level, USBLN holds an annual conference during which members of different affiliates can exchange best practices, businesses can learn how to better reach out to consumers with disabilities, and professionals with disabilities can learn how to advance their career paths.
Bob Glowacki, president and chief executive officer of Easter Seals Southeast Wisconsin, has been a leading force behind the push to introduce a USBLN organization to the region.
“From my personal experience in talking with various employers, many of them want to do the right thing in a sense in hiring individuals with disabilities and special needs,” Glowacki said.
Challenges, fears and myths of employing job candidates with disabilities stand in the way of hiring progress.
USBLN can “help an employer overcome some of those obstacles or get answers to their questions so that they can do what they want to do,” Glowacki said, adding that what employers want to do is fill positions currently open.
Glowacki and his colleagues within the workforce solutions collaborative are now focused on assembling a steering committee of six business champions who can guide the start-up of a local USBLN organization that tailors its functions to the needs of local employers.
None of the six leaders have been secured, according to Glowacki, but a number of employers have been interested in the idea.
In forming the structure of the organization, the steering committee could pursue one of two options. The committee could start an independent 501(c)(3) organization or collaborate with an association or nonprofit that would serve as the fiscal agent and house the organization until it is ready to launch on its own. The organization would be membership driven, and membership support would back its growth.
The steering committee would find the best way forward for Milwaukee in creating a USBLN affiliate, Glowacki said, but first and foremost is a priority to gather likeminded people together to discuss the right steps to follow. Glowacki aims to pull together six champions by the end of the first quarter.
Along with other members of the workforce solutions collaborative, he is tapping other USBLN affiliates to learn about their process of building an organization and talking to companies engaged with USBLN’s national efforts – companies such as AT&T and Walgreens.
From Glowacki’s perspective, diversifying a workforce with individuals with disabilities has layers of benefits.
“There’s the tangibles of longer loyalty, filling those entry level positions, and the customer being very positive about your organization,” Glowacki said.
Those can be “market differentiators” when the public looks at a company and its commitment to the community, he added.
Incorporating staff members with disabilities can also boost a company’s employee culture and its bottom line, according to Kirkbride.
“It’s not only the right thing to do, but it makes good business sense and it impacts the bottom line in a positive way,” she said.
Services provided by a local USBLN chapter could be particularly useful for federal contractors and subcontractors who, under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, must comply with recently enforced, rigid affirmative action goals focused on individuals with disabilities.
Across industries, employment prospects for individuals with disabilities will not improve until businesses take a more active role in the dialogue on inclusive workforces, according to Kirkbride.
“Until you have business at the table, you’re not going to increase the employment rate of people with disabilities,” she said, adding that that rate has essentially stagnated throughout the last two decades.
In 2014, 17.1 percent of people with disabilities were employed, according to statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.