Talent Acquisition Professionals” (TAPs), who place people with disabilities in jobs, are charged with understanding and supporting the needs of not one customer, but two. They’re responsible to those people with disabilities, whom they aid in finding a career, and they also answer to businesses that do the hiring.
The ability of TAPs to partner effectively with business is an essential bridge to employment for people with disabilities seeking competitive jobs. This means TAPs should develop the skills and capacities to form long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with employers in their local communities.
For federal contractors, it’s important to remember that Section 503 requirements mandate that businesses with more than 100 employees hire people with disabilities in all job categories. Recently passed regulations to the Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, WIOA, also support students as they seek and/or sustain employment during the transition process from school to adult life.
TAPs should learn to leverage these new policy initiatives as they create business relationships so that they result in more jobs and better opportunities for people with disabilities.
One of the most vital elements in forming such a partnership is to build trust between agency and an employer. It’s important that agencies ask about and respond to employer needs. First, make sure your agency capitalizes on local labor market information, and then share it within the organization.
Cornell University research suggests that developing sector-specific expertise in a job market contributes to strong business relationships, as employers feel you understand and speak their language. For example, if there are a large number of positions in healthcare, agencies should assign a TAP familiar with that field, so that they know the skills and abilities required tosuccessfully place job applicants.
When building a trusting relationship with an employer, start by trying to determine their needs. In initial conversations, talk more about what they may be looking for in a prospective candidate than about the services your agency provides. Focus on how their goals and challenges will impact their workforce now and in the future.
Here are some possible questions to jump-start the conversation:
- What is the goal and mission of your business?
- What talents do you most need to achieve these goals?
- Where do you have the most challenges in your workforce?
- Where do you have a hard time finding and keeping talent?
- Where do you have the most turnover?
- What job areas or tasks do you have the hardest time getting done?
Trust is the most important factor in building this initial relationship. Do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you are going to do it. If you can’t meet the employer’s needs, let them know and help them find a more appropriate resource.
When TAPs primary agenda is placement of an individual, they fail to capitalize on the benefits of creating a sustainable relationship with an employer, which could result in a pipeline of potential jobs over time.
One-off placements too often are low-skill positions with low pay and few, if any, benefits. These jobs also have little chance for advancement.
Going forward, the new employee is often not equipped to pursue career development opportunities. Unfortunately, the latter has not been a priority for many TAP organizations in the past, despite research that shows employers want to promote hires with disabilities. This employer willingness may mean more opportunities for employees with disabilities to advance.
Enduring TAP-business relationships require gaining insight into an organization’s culture. TAPs must come to understand how a company works, and what’s important to both the leadership and the rank-and-file employees. This allows them to make sure the workplace culture is a good fit for the job seeker.
Understanding the culture of a workplace helps to make a successful match between employer and job applicant, whether or not the person has a disability. Workplace culture is usually evident when you start to interact with a business and its employees. When TAPs work with a business, they should observe co-workers interaction:
- Is there a communal break room where people have lunch or take breaks and touch base during the day?
- Do people eat at their desks and remain focused only on work?
- How do people speak to one another?
- Do they joke around or keep to themselves?
- Is there a dress code?
- When can workers make decisions on their own, and when should they check with a colleague(s) or supervisor?
- Is there room for flexibility in how the work is done?
The answers to these questions can give an indication of what’s really important and how to be successful in a particular workplace. You might also ask a supervisor about employee expectations, and her understanding and support needs around working with people with disabilities.
Supervisors and managers are important gatekeepers. They decide who gets hired, who gets fired, who gets promoted and who gets support in the workplace. They can be an employee’s best friend or worst enemy.
With the economy and labor market recovering, and increasing pressures to diversify the workforce, employers are realizing the value of hiring and advancing people with disabilities. Increasingly they will look to TAPs and community-based agencies as a trusted source to provide a rich talent pool.
by Wendy Strobel Gower, Hannah Rudstam
Wendy Strobel Gower is extension faculty and the director of the Northeast ADA Center and the Diversity Partners Project at the Yang-Tan Employment and Disability Institute at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.
Hannah Rudstam, PhD, is senior extension faculty with the Northeast ADA Center and Diversity Partners Project at the Yang-Tan Employment and Disability Institute at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.