Hidden Talent Pools: Benefits of Hiring Employees With A Disability

Minnesota map with map showing southwest Minnesota and words Southwest Minnesota

The Southwest Minnesota CareerForce and partners held a December event for employers focused on the benefits of hiring employees with a disability.  Employers and partners gathered to hear up-to-date information on why they should consider this talent pool and walked away with first-hand information on how to access these employees and how to navigate any potential accommodations.  Jessica Miller, DEED’s Workforce Strategy Consultant for Southwest Minnesota, helped organize and lead the event, which was held in Marshall on December 5.

Cindy Held Tarshish, ADA Minnesota Program Manager at the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living, provided the keynote and pointed out that “1 in 3 people will develop some sort of disability in their lifetime,” and indicated that nationally, 2.2 million graduating college students have disabilities.  These disabilities do not impede someone from being a good worker, and oftentimes lead to loyal and hardworking employees with inherent problem-solving skills cultivated from years of navigating through a system that is not always designed with their needs in mind. 

Southwest Minnesota employers already have a larger share of prime working age employees with a disability (5.5%) than statewide (5%), yet nearly 1,000 workers with a disability are still unemployed in the region. This might be caused partially by a higher labor force participation rate in the region for workers with a disability compared to the rest of the state. However, the participation rate (working or actively looking for work) for people with a disability is far below that of the overall population (see Figure 1). Increasing access to work for this population is one way to increase the labor force in a region that is desperate for workers.

Labor Force Participation Rate MN: 69.9% total working age population; 52.3%of those with disability; SW MN: 68% of total working age population; 55.2% of those with a disability

Thankfully, employers do not have to navigate this process alone.  Regional Vocational Rehabilitation Services staff and CareerForce leading partners at the Southwest Minnesota Private Industry Council are available to assist employers with accommodation requests and Tarshish is also available as a resource.  According to Tarshish, “Most accommodations are $500 or less and many at no cost at all to the employer.  Examples might include a close parking spot, a set lunch time, or a written standard operating procedure for a task.”  Other possibilities include a simple transfer to a different, but similar, role that may fit better. 

Tarshish shared a story about a teacher she had worked with for over a year.  Due to treatments she was receiving for a cancer diagnosis, she was unable to speak at an amplified level for long periods of time. Amplification systems were not working and this was proven to be quite difficult for someone whose essential job function was verbally instructing children all day.  With Tarshish’s guidance, they worked with the school district to find a solution.  The district was not required to create a position or remove someone from a position, but rather than ask her to repeat the application process, they placed her in a vacant position with a similar pay scale in a different school.   In the end, she was placed in a small study hall classroom, helping struggling students with their homework where whispering was strongly encouraged.  It was a perfect fit for all.

Employers can benefit from tapping into the region’s population with a disability. For more information about the workforce in Southwest Minnesota, contact Jessica Miller jessica.miller@state.mn.us, Luke Greiner luke.greiner@state.mn.us or Mark Schultz mark.schultz@state.mn.us.