Thriving Companies Tap Disabled Workers | Jobs In ME
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Thriving Companies Tap Disabled Workers

By: Jim Baumer

Six months into my tenure as the director of the Maine Business Leadership Network (BLN), I've learned a great deal about the importance and value that people with disabilities bring to those employers that recognize them as an important pool of talent.

Good for Business

In my previous article about how disability sparks workplace success, I indicated that hiring people with disabilities can significantly improve a company's bottom line and bring invested, loyal employees on-board who welcome the opportunity to succeed.

I've also learned that people with disabilities still face significant challenges in fully maximizing their employment potential. Consider the following:

  • Adults with disabilities are less likely to be employed than adults with no disability. According to Cornell University's report on the U.S. Census Bureau's 2008 American Community Survey, on average, 33 percent of working-age Americans with a disability were employed in 2011 compared to 73 percent of those with no disability.
  • Workers with a disability were more likely than those with no disability to work part-time according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • More than one in four people with disabilities in the U.S. were living in poverty in 2011, according to Disability Scoop.

Underutilized Talent

I believe that every person deserves an equal opportunity to maximize their potential and access success. The way that happens in our country is with a job, especially a job that provides fulfillment and wages that lifts one out of poverty and into the middle class. That's been the bedrock of the American dream for the past 65 years.

Disabled individuals are a key element of the American workforce, especially given what we know about the graying of our working-age population. People with disabilities represent a pool of considerable talent that remains under-utilized.

Big Companies Leading the Way

While there are challenges to employing people with disabilities, as there are with any individual, many companies nationally, like Walgreens, Home Depot, AMC Theaters, Southwest Airlines, Microsoft, and a host of others, have faced those challenges and are reaping the rewards that many other companies are missing out on.

Walgreens' Successful Program

Recently, the Maine BLN and several member businesses visited the Walgreens Distribution Center located in Windsor, Connecticut. It's an amazing state-of-the-art facility that is 13 football fields large. It also happens to be the company's most efficient distribution site in the country, based on productivity, accuracy, turnover and morale. Among its workforce of 800 employees, nearly 50 percent are people with disabilities.

In fact, new research from Walgreens suggests that people with disabilities make for a particularly stable workforce. A study of its distribution centers by the American Society of Safety Engineers found that workers with disabilities had a turnover rate 48 percent lower than that of the nondisabled population, with medical costs 67 percent lower and time-off expenses 73 percent lower.

Procter & Gamble

In Maine, Procter & Gamble has adopted a model very similar to what Walgreens is doing in their distribution centers. Their Auburn Tambrands plant has a new FlexiCenter where nearly 40 percent of their workforce is comprised of people with disabilities.

Good Stats on Disabled Workers

Hiring people with disabilities makes good business sense for several other reasons. Similar studies at other companies show that productivity and attendance rates differ little between people with or without disabilities. Home Depot, Marriott and Pizza Hut report that absentee rates are actually lower among their disabled workforce. Marriott experienced a six percent turnover rate among people with disabilities while their overall rate was 52 percent.

More and more progressive businesses are recognizing what Walgreens has found to be true - that hiring people with disabilities is a very effective tool in recruiting and retaining talent.

Businesses interested in accessing qualified job candidates with disabilities in their state can visit the Think Beyond The Label jobs portal.

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Jim Baumer is a workforce and career consultant with more than 10 years of experience in workforce development. He is currently the director of the Maine Business Leadership Network, as well as an entrepreneur, an engaging speaker, a writer, as well as an independent publisher with three books in print and new ones on the way.