October 25, 2021


A Growing Crisis

The COVID-19 coronavirus has worsened the current manufacturing employment gap. Nearly two-thirds of the jobs lost in the early days of the pandemic have returned, but 570,000 remain unfilled. Those tasked with filling these positions find it 36% harder to hire people despite an unemployment rate double the pre-pandemic number. Seventy-seven percent of manufacturers face ongoing difficulties in hiring and retaining qualified workers. The result is a workforce trend that offers more inclusive opportunities outside the regular employment pool. It can be good when one person’s pain can be another person’s gain. The outcome is even more desirable when a solution is mutually beneficial to both parties. These issues are causing hiring managers to give more robust consideration to those with various disabilities.

New Leverage

A 2018 jobless rate report found the employment rate of those with disabilities in the U.S. was 29.7%. The high unemployment for this group occurred at a fifty-year low of 3.8% for the nation. The result is that manufacturers are more open to exploring additional areas of the labor market segments. In addition, companies that have become more inclusive are finding ideal employees.

The MDI Approach

Minnesota Diversified Industries (MDI) is a social enterprise that manufactures the plastic totes and trays used by the U.S. Postal Service. Fifty percent of the company’s workforce have some form of disability. Few of these employees required any workplace accommodation. The impact of these individuals working alongside non-disabled employees has led to a powerfully positive culture in which 95% of the workforce reports that they like working at MDI. The energy and spirit from this inclusive work environment have resulted in high-quality metrics and low turnover.

Image Credit: ELEVATE from Pexels

Does your workplace aim to be more inclusive? Providing opportunities for all is not so difficult and improves a workplace's productivity.
Christine Torres

Productivity Improvement

Research on diversity inclusion observed 13,000 workdays at Peckham, Inc. in Lansing, Michigan. They found that productivity improved with an increased number of different disabilities among the team members. Productivity was further enhanced when there was an equal distribution of disabilities among the people in the workforce. The strongest teams in the plant were those with greater disability inclusion and diversity. The key was to find work that was the best skillset for the person doing the job. Ultimately, this leads to greater enjoyment of the assigned work for each person. A continuing theme highlighted in this research was the need to work with partner organizations that have specialized skills in helping to integrate those with disabilities into the manufacturing workforce.

The SHRM Recommendation

A Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) article makes a similar business case that hiring those with disabilities to work in an accessible workplace will benefit the organization. The varied perspectives brought to the work in a diverse culture drive improved performance. Achieving these benefits is the responsibility of human resource (HR) professionals. They must develop an environment where all who hire new employees give equal consideration to those with disabilities. The HR group can help everyone understand the various compliance regulations and methods to ensure workplace accessibility. Furthermore, recruiting, hiring, and retaining those with disabilities can allow a company to reap the rewards this population segment can bring to the job. Additionally, the positive narrative for public relations can attract consumers who want to feel good about their spending.

Key Takeaway

The manufacturing sector needs a more extensive employment pool. Those with disabilities experience high levels of unemployment. Those with disabilities improve workplace productivity. Employers that learn how to recruit, hire, and retain those with disabilities will not only fill open positions but also improve employee satisfaction and workplace culture. When done with proper planning and care, they will also see improved productivity. Another case where the right thing to do from a social perspective is also the right thing to do to drive enhanced company performance.

First Step

The Americans with Disabilities Act Questions and Answers document can guide those interested in seeing if their organization is compliant with the American’s with Disabilities Act. It is critical to see additional requirements for the state location for the manufacturing operation to confirm full compliance. Typically, the other accommodations to allow an employee to engage actively in work at the company will be minor and result in a high-performing addition to the workforce.

My Gratitude

I am grateful that employers are beginning to embrace an expansion of their employment pool. The shrinking of the traditional collection of potential employees is now opening up opportunities to those deserving of the chance to be actively employed in a meaningful career.

Sneak Peek

Next week, the blog topic will continue with the shift to expand the employment pool for the manufacturing sector.

To learn more about our work or to read more blog posts, visit emmanuelstrategicsustainability.com.

Cover Image Credit: Yomex Owo on Unsplash

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