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WORKFORCES STRENGTHENED BY PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES

WORKFORCES STRENGTHENED BY PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES

WORKFORCES STRENGTHENED BY PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES
November 28
13:00 2017

Benefits Products & Services

Nonprofit firm helps match job openings and talents

Anyone who listens to enough company owners or HR directors talk about personnel issues might eventually hear them say, with pride, “You wouldn’t believe where we found this amazing employee.” They then go on to describe how the employee who has worked out so well came to them in some unexpected way. When looking for talent, it pays to keep all avenues open.
Finding high-quality employees is an ongoing priority for many companies today. Employers may be in hiring mode due to better business conditions, Baby Boomer retirements, changes related to technology, or for any number of other reasons.

“About half of the more than 300 individuals who have found jobs through Disability Solutions over the past five yearshave bachelor’s degrees.”

—Julie Cook
Team Member
Disability Solutions

When companies are focused on hiring, it heightens the value of their brokers’ services as they craft a benefits package that will be effective in recruiting and retaining good employees. Brokers and other advisors also are in a position to point their clients toward creative hiring practices that have proved effective at other companies. One such practice is the hiring of persons with a disability.

The term “disabled person” requires immediate clarification—both as to the range of disabilities and the types of jobs they are assuming or capable of assuming.

Julie Cook is a team member at Disability Solutions, a national nonprofit consulting organization that matches the talents of disabled individuals with employers’ needs. “We define disability as a condition—either physical or mental—that has an impact on a significant life activity,” saysCook. “Under that definition, one in five Americans has a disability, and that percentage will rise as the population ages.”

“Their education level ranges from Ph.Ds to thosewith less than a high school education,” Cook continues. “About half of the more than 300 individuals who have found jobs through Disability Solutions over the past five years have bachelor’s degrees.”

In those five years, Disability Solutions has partnered with PepsiCo, Synchrony Financial, American Express and Staples, among others, to bring people with disabilities into their workforces and help with adjustments post-hire. Disability Solutions recently began working with Aon Hewitt.

“Aon has made a strong commitment to hiring individuals within their own organization, and they want to understand the best way to do that,” says Cook. “With that commitment, they will then be able to show their own clients how hiring people with disabilities can benefit them also. We look forward to seeing that multiplier effect.”

Cook, who is a person with a hidden disability herself, has worked personally with Synchrony Financial in its Kettering, Ohio, Business Operations Center in a program resulting in the hiring of more than 60 full-time and part-time employees in the past year. This initiative has now been expanded to a Synchrony office in Phoenix, Arizona.

“What we do at Disability Solutions is not about charity,” Cook says. “There’s a demonstrable return on investment for the companies we work with.”

Besides placing more than 300 disabled persons into jobs in the last five years, Disability Solutions has increased its clients’ employee retention rate by 14% and decreased the time taken to fill key positions. Positions have been filled by persons with a wide range of disabilities, including 21% who are veterans.

“We learn the needs of our client companies and how to speak the language of their business. Then we bring that information to our pool of potential job applicants, so that they can apply for an available job. Without our help,” Cook states, “some persons with disabilities, especially those looking for entry level positions, find themselves entering a black hole when they start responding to jobs listed at a website. They just need a little coaching.”

After an individual is hired, Disability Solutions counselors are available to support both the employer and employee, providing suggestions and answering questions.

Disability Solutions was formed five years ago by its nonprofit parent organization, Ability Beyond, a 60-year-old Connecticut-based firm which serves a narrower segment of people with a disability—those withgenerally more significant and cognitive disabilities. Disability Solutions was able to take advantage of the extensive experience of Ability Beyond’steam members to build an employer-focused consulting practice.

The Disability Solutions team members work with companies of all sizes. Among the experience they bring to these firms is familiarity with the changing regulatory environment. They are able to help their client companies leverage any incentives that may exist for hiring individuals with a disability.

Kris Foss, managing director of Disability Solutions, says, “I was hearingfrom the leaders of a number of companies about a growing need to effectively include job seekers with disabilities in their overall talent strategies and to engage their current workforce. They cited uncertainty about how to get started and a desire to not reinvent the wheel. We knew we had put together a team that could implement those strategies and support our corporate clients to successful outcomes.”

Some insurers in the employee benefits market also have demonstrated leadership in hiring disabled individuals. Six such companies were among 45 large employers recognized recently by The National Organization on Disability (NOD) for their commitment to hiring disabled individuals: Aetna, Anthem, Horizon BCBS of New Jersey, Kaiser Permanente, MassMutual and Prudential. They were presented with NOD’s 2017 Leading Disability Employer Seal™.

MassMutual also was one of the 68 companies named in the “Best Places to Work for Disability Inclusion” by the US Business Leadership Network and the American Association of People with Disabilities. The company’s Adapt Business Resource Group, made up of more than 200 employees, is devoted to disability inclusion initiatives.

Lori Valle-Yanez, MassMutual’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, says, “One example of the Adapt Group’s work has been facilities improvements such as switching door knobs to handles and replacing old stair lifts with ramps.”

In response to an employee idea more than 10 years ago, MassMutual also established a program called SpecialCare to help family members with special needs.

Disability insurers well understand the rewards, both to employer and employee, of bringing disability claimants back to their jobs after a significant injury. Sometimes this can be made possible only by major retrofitting of their job space or accommodations to work from home. There are economic benefits to employer and employee from such an investment; just as important is the self-respect it engenders in the productive employee.

Disability Solutions counselors are intimately familiar with the self-respect issue. The company’s tagline is “Changing minds and changing lives.” Says Cook, “We’re excited and proud to be doing that. Our goal is for people to see people with disabilities differently. There is a lot of talent among persons with disabilities, and we just need an opportunity to take that talent into positions in the workplace.”

For more information:

Disability Solutions www.disabilitysolutionsatwork.org

The author

Thomas A. McCoy, CLU, retired in 2013 as editor-in-chief of Rough Notes magazine.

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