One in five Americans has a disability, and only about half of Americans with disabilities are employed. Both government officials and private sector organizations are taking notice.
Delaware Governor Jack Markell, the 2012-2013 Chair of the National Governors Association, announced in July his initiative for his Chair term–A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities–stating, “There are so many people with disabilities who have the time, talent, and desire to make meaningful contributions to interested employers.”
Vic Wursten, VP of Operations at PRIDE Industries, agrees.
“People with disabilities face unemployment at nearly four times the rate of the general population. Yet, people with disabilities are a major untapped source of qualified employment candidates.”
Organizations like PRIDE Industries, Goodwill Industries and Melwood provide employment to individuals with disabilities–by hiring and training individuals with disabilities in-house–then contracting their business services to both private sector and government organizations, typically in facility, maintenance and manufacturing roles.
The results of these organizations’ efforts demonstrate that there are a wide range of roles within the facility management community that can be filled by individuals with disabilities. But why should companies seek to hire individuals with disabilities and the contracted services these organizations are offering? I interviewed executives from both PRIDE and Goodwill to find out.
Individuals with Disabilities Fill a Broad Range of Facility Roles
The career opportunities within the facility management sector are vast. For example, Melwood, a D.C.-based nonprofit which employs 2,400 individuals with disabilities, has three Total Facility Management Services contracts with government agencies. This includes the recent acquisition of building and grounds operations at Fort Meade, a 5,500-acre Army base in Maryland.
Similarly, PRIDE Industries employs 2,600 individuals with disabilities who maintain more than 30 million square feet of business, institutional, and military facilities daily. PRIDE’s Integrated Facilities Services Division also provides numerous facility roles for prospective employees, including roles in energy management and water treatment; elevator maintenance; general construction, repairs, and renovations; and common custodial and grounds services.
Goodwill Industries’ training and placement programs work closely with community colleges and other training providers. Wende Randall, Director of Mission Services at Goodwill Industries, says, “We assist individuals in acquiring the proper training for jobs in construction, wind technology, deconstruction, weatherization, HVAC, and other facility roles.”
Accentuating the vast range of opportunity, Wursten adds, “We challenge misperceptions daily by focusing on abilities–instead of disabilities.”
Reasons Facilities Should Tap Into These Resources
Organizations employing individuals with disabilities report several benefits. Their experiences counter common stigmas, which often include a concern over uncertainties about job performance, capability and productivity. Furthermore, there are economic and social impressions that make this hiring practice attractive. Here are five reasons why your organization should consider tapping into these resources.
- There could be financial incentives. Tax credits may be available to organizations employing individuals with disabilities, which can potentially offset any accommodation costs–and there’s potential tax deductibility for any assistive technology investment made. However, A 2009 Job Accommodation Network study found that more than half of all job accommodations made for individuals with disabilities cost nothing; the remaining accommodations cost an average of $500.
- Turnover is lower. According to a United Nations report, after one year of employment, the retention rate of persons with disabilities is 85 percent. For comparison, in an article written by Rodney Warrenfeltz, Ph.D., President of Hogan Assessments, he estimates a 200 to 300 percent turnover rate for entry-level service jobs in facility maintenance. Higher retention rates save an organization significantly by reducing costs related to hiring and training replacements.
- Performance is higher and absenteeism is lower. Studies show that people with disabilities demonstrate higher job performance and lower absenteeism. Wursten notes, “People with disabilities are a diverse group of people who, in general, possess heightened problem-solving skills, a demonstration of patience having overcome significant obstacles, and above all, enthusiasm and an eagerness to succeed in the workplace.”
- It demonstrates Corporate Social Responsibility. Having a company culture that’s known for diversity in the workplace is not only socially responsible, it’s valuable. The PRIDE study also states that Americans having a disability of some sort represent $1 trillion in purchasing power. Wursten elaborates, “Social enterprise not only helps people with disabilities to be employed–it moves individuals from human service consumers to contributors. This benefits everyone–the individual, their families, and taxpayers.”
- Tap a pool of trained individuals. Because these organizations provide rigorous training in specific trades, employees arrive with a valuable skill set–which could benefit the widening skills gap. Randall explains, “This strategy is extremely important in filling the middle-skills gaps that are evident in the current economy, and will continue to grow as generational employment situations change."
The overall impact of hiring individuals with disabilities is a win-win strategy for both individuals with disabilities and their employers. Wursten summarizes it well: “The fact is that people with disabilities are assets, not liabilities, to an organization and its bottom line. In reality, people with disabilities don’t cost more to employ, are proven to meet or exceed challenges, have lower turnover and relate well to customers and co-workers.”
Does you have experience employing individuals with disabilities in your facility? Or have you worked directly with one of the organizations mentioned? If so, what was your experience like? What would you suggest to businesses considering this avenue? Please feel free to share your experience below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thumbnail courtesy of Henry Khoo.