Employer Strategies for Recruiting and Retaining People with Disabilities and Veterans

July 16th, 2014   •   no comments   

 Q1: What are some key strategies my organization can utilize to improve recruitment and retention outcomes?

For most employers, change comes from within. Organizational readiness, positive recruitment efforts, and corporate culture are among the most important strategies employers can utilize to improve hiring and retention outcomes for people with disabilities and veterans. This FAQ discusses some key strategies, including: (1) leveraging finite human resources capabilities and personnel; (2) focusing on organization-wide, supervisor and employee training needs; (3) utilizing external partnerships for effective recruitment outreach; (4) ensuring general website and career portal accessibility; (5) improving marketing and on-line presence; and (6) leveraging technical assistance outlets to foster an inclusive workplace and provide reasonable accommodations.


Q2: Why is supervisor training so important?

Research shows that supervisors who work in inclusive workplaces tend to rate the performance of employees with disabilities as equal to that of their peers without disabilities.[1] Providing training opportunities and resources to supervisors constitutes a cost-effective strategy for enhancing workplace inclusivity and attracting/retaining people with disabilities and veterans. Training is also a powerful tool to reduce unconscious bias, facilitate inclusive work environments, and equip management and staff with the information and resources needed to support co-workers with disabilities and veteran co-workers. Successful training strategies may utilize existing awareness-building opportunities (for example, National Disability Employment Awareness Month), or may include disability as an aspect of existing opportunities such as mentoring and internship programs.


For helpful training, information and technical assistance, employers can visit the Employer Assistance and Resource Network (EARN). EARN provides services which can help employers recruit, retain, and advance employees with disabilities and veteran employees, including phone and online consultation, technical assistance, and on-site employer training.


Q3: How can my organization effectively train its supervisors and employees on disability-specific issues?

Supervisor uncertainty often has its roots in inadequate training. Research suggests that something as simple as periodic two-hour workshops for supervisors can result in greater self-disclosure, stronger communication between supervisor and employee, and more.[2] Training can lead to positive outcomes in:


  • reducing supervisor bias;
  • creating greater success and efficiency in providing accommodations and modifications; and
  • strengthening communication.


Employers should be sure that supervisors are trained in:

  • the general legal framework and specific legal requirements of reasonable accommodations;
  •  disability etiquette and awareness;
  • retention, and return-to-work strategies; and
  • overcoming stereotypes and other attitudinal barriers.


Professional development for employees in all offices, divisions, and departments is key. Employers should consider providing training on disability-related issues to all personnel, particularly those involved in recruitment, hiring, promotion, and retention.


EARN’s technical assistance, consulting, and employer training services can be helpful for employers formulating professional development and supervisor training initiatives. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) offers guidance and resources for providing reasonable accommodations in the workplace, “productivity tools” and reasonable accommodation “strategies that work,” Low Cost/High Impact and Cost-Benefit best practices. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) offers a range of resources, such as the Searchable Job Accommodation Resource, along with free, expert, and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues.JAN services include a consultant hotline, connection to federal, state, and local resources, and accommodation ideas by disability, occupation, product or service, and topic.


Q4: How can my organization leverage its existing resources to facilitate an inclusive work environment?

Inclusive work environments are crucial to attracting and retaining people with disabilities and veterans. As noted above, simple training exercises can go a long way in reducing unconscious bias in the workplace. Informational sessions, publications, training opportunities, HR practices, and other inexpensive internal fixes can significantly reduce organizational barriers. Offering internship opportunities for students with disabilities can help overcome institutional bias and can enhance recruitment efforts.


Employers should facilitate a climate of self-disclosure and accountability. Systems should be put in place that establish accountability and continuous improvement. Commitment at all levels of an organization is also critical. Top-down strategies for fostering an inclusive workplace can be enacted both in policy and in practice. Companies can publish their diversity initiatives on their website to assist in external recruitment and awareness efforts, support and sponsor disability and veterans’ employee resource groups, and practice internal auditing of practices for continuous improvement.


For helpful general information about fostering inclusive workplace environments and personnel processes, successful reasonable accommodations strategies, diverse talent pipelines, and more, employers can consult ODEP’s “Business Strategies That Work” document, available here. For additional information on the role that Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) can play in fostering inclusive work environments, readers should refer to Question 9 of this FAQ.


Q5: How can my organization create marketing, on-line content, and publications to improve outreach?

Employer websites and publications can enhance outreach efforts, at minimal cost. While many company websites do highlight diversity initiatives, many also come up short in publishing explicit statements about their inclusive hiring practices.[3]  Rather than describing commitment to diversity in sweeping, generic terms, employer materials should directly evidence a commitment to employment of people with disabilities and veterans, as well as recognition of the contributions of these groups. Thoughtful development of on-line materials can constitute a particularly cost-effective strategy for broadening talent pools and improving employers’ public image. Prospective applicants may glean a general picture of an employer’s diversity practices through on-line materials and websites, and the utilization of effective, accessible materials can go a long way in recruitment efforts.


Employers looking to improve and evaluate the accessibility of their on-line content may want to consult the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. Although not covering the on-line materials of federal contractors directly, the Rehabilitation Act Section 508 Accessibility Guidelines may offer employers helpful strategies for improving the accessibility of their on-line content. Additionally, the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) will soon be launching a new site, Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEATworks.org), which will offer a gateway to free resources to help employers advance the employment of people with disabilities through the development, adoption, and promotion of accessible technology.


Q6: How can my organization leverage finite HR capabilities to enhance recruitment efforts?

Many small and mid-sized employers have finite HR personnel and resources. Some organizations function without a full-time HR staff, while others outsource their HR tasks to independent contractors. To supplement existing HR resources, effective strategies include leveraging external partnerships and employing clearly-defined, efficient, and innovative HR practices.


Inclusive hiring strategies are developed from the inside out, and employers should develop internal policies which establish the employment of people with disabilities and veterans as a clear priority, including by: (a) mobilizing middle management to engage in training and internal/external collaborations necessary for building inclusive work environments; (b) communicating commitment to diverse hiring practices; and (c) delegating internal duties for attracting, engaging, and advancing people with disabilities and veterans.


Q7: What role can external partnerships play in supplementing HR practices?

Locating external partners to help identify and refer qualified people with disabilities and veterans can be key to enhancing recruitment initiatives. The new 503 regulations contain general requirements for engaging in “appropriate outreach and positive recruitment activities,” which may include external “linkage agreements.” Community resource linkages are formal or informal, outcome-based partnerships between employers and organizations that provide employment services or candidate referral for targeted hiring programs. Many local community organizations provide technical assistance on reasonable accommodations, on-site job training, interviews, and other important functions which directly supplement internal HR efforts. Partnering or linking with such organizations can be a fruitful strategy.


Community partnerships can be an essential resource for employers looking to improve their recruitment efforts. Employers seeking community linkage resources can visit the OFCCP’s Linkage Directory, as well as the EARN’s Community Resource Linkages page.


Q8: My organization outsources HR functions. What strategies can help my organization get the most out of third-party recruitment and hiring efforts?

When outsourcing HR practices, employers should be sure that the outside group understands company goals and objectives fully, has a strategic vision for enacting those objectives, has an operative plan for communicating with affected individuals or groups within the company, and pays careful attention to personnel issues.  By crafting and implementing a plan for diverse hiring practices, ensuring people with disabilities  and veterans are an integral part of the plan,  prior to contracting with a third party HR provider, employers can delegate time and resources to the “front end,” selecting market indicators or metrics that serve as benchmarks for inclusive HR.


Q9: What role can Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) play in improving workplace and recruitment outcomes?

Many larger employers offer ERGs for people with disabilities, and even more offer ERGs for military veterans. A growing number of employers have begun to recognize the value of leveraging ERGs to source and recruit talent and improve corporate environment, communication, and marketing. Corporate support or sponsorship of ERGs can further interests by: (a) improving internal discourse/communication; (b) fostering a welcoming environment; and (c) improving employee satisfaction. These improvements have collateral benefits such as reduction in absenteeism and turnover, improved recruitment efforts, increased commitment to the organization, and higher employee productivity.


Benefits of ERGs include organized feedback from current employees, corporate exhibition of a diversity mission which seeks inclusion of people with disabilities, and improved/streamlined human resources efforts and work climate accountability. Employees experience personal benefits from participation in ERGs, while employers experience both tangible and intangible benefits (increased employee satisfaction, employee productivity, reduced turnover, etc.).  Companies with affinity groups or ERGs are often rated as the best places to work.


Not all employers have ERGs for people with disabilities or veterans ERGs. However, the lessons learned from research about leveraging ERGs are transferrable to all employers. For instance, many companies have begun utilizing their ERGs to recruit new qualified talent. HR departments often leverage ERG relations as a means to attracting a more diverse (and, often, more qualified) talent pool. Examples of employers harnessing the power of ERGs include having ERG representatives or members: (1) attend job fairs; (2) host networking events for both recent college graduates and more experienced professionals; (3) engage in outreach at their collegiate alma maters; (4) offer testimonials on company websites; and (5) directly meet with targeted recruits. Inclusive hiring can have exponential benefits. Hiring a diverse workforce offers employers diverse outreach and publicity opportunities. As evidenced by successes from ERG leveraging, inclusive hiring yields new opportunities for effective outreach and recruitment, which in turn ushers employers down the road to compliance.


Q10: What resources exist for supporting recruitment and retention efforts?

ODEP offers a number of additional tools and resources useful to employers looking to improve recruitment and retention efforts. For instance, ODEP’s Return-to-Work Toolkit helps employers understand the return-to-work process for employees with disabilities, and provides resources to assist in getting employees back on the job quickly and smoothly. ODEP’s Workplace Flexibility Toolkit provides case studies, fact and tip sheets, issue briefs, reports, articles, websites, other toolkits, and FAQs to support employers as they ensure that employee and employer needs are met through making changes to the time (when), location (where), and manner (how) in which an employee works. Readers are encouraged to consider the wide array of Technical Assistance Resources offered on ODEP’s website.




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