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Hidden Talent: The ROI of harnessing Diff-abilities

janheadshotwebBy Jan van der Hoop

It’s funny how work can take you in some unexpected directions, if you’re open to it.

Last summer, I reached out to Joe Dale, the Executive Director of the Ontario Disabilities Employment Network. We’d originally been introduced years previously, and much as I admired his mission (helping employers place people with ‘disabilities’ into meaningful work), we just didn’t have the tools or the technology to help him at the time.

When I called him and described some brand-new job-matching technology we had just launched, there was a long silence at the other end of the phone. And then a flood of questions.

Those questions led to a pilot of the technology, then another pilot, two projects, a speaking engagement, a slew of introductions and referrals, and two invitations from the Lt. Governor of the State of Michigan to explore synergies there.

Along the way, I’ve learned a lot of things I didn’t know I didn’t know about the employment of people with ‘disabilities’.

  • Disabled employees often perform better and require less supervision than their able-bodied counterparts. A DuPont study showed that 90% of workers who have a disability scored average or above average in performance ratings
  • One Walgreen’s Distribution Center in Connecticut (where 47% of the workforce is ‘disabled’ posted the following results:
    • Highest productivity rate in the country, every year since they opened in 2007
    • 40% lower accident rate
    • 67% lower medical costs
    • 63% less lost time
    • 78% lower overall employee costs
  • Workers who have a disability are 5 times more likely to stay on the job. One multi-unit restaurant owner saw his turnover decrease to 35%, compared to the company average of 82%.
  • Accommodations are generally simple and inexpensive (most less than $500) – making the ROI insane.
  • Employing people with disabilities is good for business. It sends a strong message about your culture and values to customers and coworkers… and a recent study by IPS shows that public corporations that employ people with disabilities outperformed the NYSE by 9%.

I think my favorite story came from an employer in Michigan. They had (reluctantly) offered an internship placement to a candidate with autism. Not quite sure what to do with him, they discovered he had an affinity for numbers and gave him a spreadsheet. He looked at it for a moment, then asked for another, and another until he’d seen most of the company’s internal reporting system. Without making notes, he mentally compared the data on the sheets and was able to identify $400,000 in reporting errors and inefficiencies.

Needless to say, they offered him a full-time job.

It’s a feel-good story, but it’s not an isolated case. And it does highlight something that’s as true for our able-bodies folks as it is for those with disabilities: it’s not the disability that we need to focus on, it’s the diff-ability. When we are able to identify a person’s hidden talent, then focus them on work aligned with that talent, everyone wins.

It is projected that by 2020, more than 20% of the population will have a disability. Which means, if you or your company aren’t actively looking for ways to tap into the talent pool, you’re going to find yourself at a disadvantage.

Why is the number on the rise? It’s (in part) a natural consequence of an aging population – mobility can get harder, eyesight goes, parts seize up. We’re no less valuable as a contributor; our knowledge and experience are still perfectly valid… we just need some small accommodations to remain productive.

And yet, 49% (or more) of adults who have a disability are unemployed. While many corporations are lobbying Government to increase immigration and others are implementing foreign worker programs, few are looking in their own back yards where more than 49% of people who have a disability are unemployed and eager to break into the workforce.

Better yet, there are people and agencies in every jurisdiction whose job it is to match people to your jobs, then help them (and you) get started and off to a good start. And it’s FREE.

Need some good, motivated, hard-working people in your business? I’ll be more than happy to introduce you to folks who can help.

 Jan van der Hoop, President, Fit First Technologies. Jan can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

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