Posted on January 11, 2022
It’s hard to go anywhere these days without seeing the ubiquitous “Help Wanted” signs in the windows of stores and businesses. The most recent statistics from the Maryland Workforce Exchange echo the challenge, with an estimated 405,000 available jobs across the state, despite approximately 178,000 people looking for work and a 5.7% unemployment rate. Though the workforce shortage was an issue prior to COVID, the pandemic has exasperated the problem significantly, even as companies offer bonuses, higher wages, hybrid work schedules, and generous benefits to attract applicants.
But business owners have a solution. There is an available workforce just waiting for an opportunity to start a new career. They’re highly motivated, exceptionally responsible, courteous, and dependable. They are the intellectual and developmental disability (IDD) community, and I can’t think of a better time for managers and owners to seize this incredible opportunity to give people with IDD a chance. And in the process, do what’s best for their business’ bottom line.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s latest figures, the workforce participation rate for people with disabilities is just 23%, compared to nearly 70% for non-disabled workers. And when it comes to unemployment, the rate is more than double that of those without a disability. Given the current workforce crisis, and the number of companies searching for workers, there is no valid reason why someone with IDD who wants a job should not have a position right now.
In the past, those with IDD who wanted to work needed to knock on a lot of doors to find an opportunity, one where the business owner was not beholden to old stigmas and stereotypes about someone with a disability. But as the labor shortage grows, the opportunity is at hand for a role reversal, and managers should be doing whatever they can to hire these enthusiastic candidates. That isn’t to say that every opening is a good match simply because it’s available. At Penn-Mar Human Services, one of our main objectives and areas of support for people with IDD is to help them secure jobs that suit their specific interests and skill sets, not just fill a position. That is never a recipe for success, regardless of the candidate or job and in my experience as a manager, the only thing worse than not being able to fill a role is hiring the wrong person or one who quickly leaves. Conversely, when someone we support starts a new job, it’s not uncommon for them to remain there for decades.
And when they are hired, they also tend to boost the all-important workplace culture. As we have seen time and again, having a diverse workforce typically leads to enhanced revenue and greater productivity, to say nothing of how it can boost team camaraderie. But this also extends to enhanced diversity among the IDD workforce, a group that proves time and again that their addition can make any business better.
Unfortunately, despite the evidence of an IDD person’s ability to excel, business owners are often hesitant to hire them. Whether the owner thinks an IDD candidate will not be capable, reliable, or a “good fit”, those ideas are not only archaic and outdated, but they also negatively impact the very success of the company and put the business’ future at risk. Meanwhile, more than 80 businesses across Maryland and Pennsylvania have turned to Penn-Mar to find qualified employees. These companies encompass a huge range of industries and occupations, from customer service and data entry to hospitality and manufacturing. For a savvy and successful owner looking for fresh ways to overcome today’s workforce challenges, new options and ideas should be on the table, especially one that has a proven track record of providing exceptional results and an overwhelmingly positive return.
A few years ago, a business that hired someone with an IDD might have been viewed as doing something good for the community. But as we knock on the door of 2022, hiring someone with an IDD is just good business.
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