In recent weeks we have explored adding additional communities to the employment pool for those having difficulty filling manufacturing openings. In addition, we have looked at the benefits of making the workforce more inclusive at all levels for Blacks, Hispanics, and women. Finally, suppose you are interested in hiring employees with less absenteeism, greater reliability and better work habits, lower personnel turnover, and good job performance. In that case, I encourage you to look at hiring the disabled.
"I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein's brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops." - Stephen Jay Gould
Gould was one of his generation's most influential and widely read scientific authors. I thought of his quote in reflecting on those with disabilities that languish in work that does not fully utilize their skills or are unable to secure a job. They are figuratively living and dying in our cotton fields and sweatshops. Imagine waking up each day knowing that you are less valued than others because they only see a wheelchair or a cane and thus limit your potential for a life of purpose that allows you to work at achieving your full potential.
In another case of nothing new under the sun, the suggestion that we should do more to hire the disabled in manufacturing dates back to at least 1949. Then, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and other member companies surveyed manufacturing organizations about the employment of handicapped and older workers. Although, as you can see, the authors used handicapped instead of disabled and older workers defined as individuals over 45, we have made minor progress in the subsequent years.
A Bureau of Labor Statistics news release from the U.S. Department of Labor reports many complex findings. For example, in 2021, there was an employment rate of 19.1 percent for individuals with a disability, slightly up from 17.9 percent in 2020. Fifty percent of persons with a disability are 65 or older, making disability three times more common among this age group than among younger workers. Underemployed throughout their working years, they are likely less financially secure in retirement. One response to their inability to land employment is that the disabled are more likely to be self-employed, proving that many are problem-solvers who want to work.
MDI is a plastic packaging solutions organization that provides meaningful workforce opportunities for the disabled. The company founder was John Durand, that in 1964 began a business model with a social purpose to allow those with disabilities the opportunity to "find inclusive jobs where they can gain purpose, independence, and empowerment." Their goal is to impact the lives of 2,500 with a disability by 2026. They do this partly through the Unified Work program, which offers a Virtual Academy and Mobile Academy to support other organizations in providing job opportunities to the disabled. They also live what they teach: in 2016, they had 260 employees with disabilities out of 521 total workforce members. One is Nga Reh, who suffers chronic pain from a leg prosthesis due to stepping on a landmine at age 21. He may otherwise be unable to gain the financial independence afforded him by MDI.
The general conclusions from the above 1949 report were that hiring disabled and older workers led to favorable outcomes for the surveyed employers. When they took the responsibility to remove barriers that had been previous deterrents, they allowed the disabled to obtain and hold self-sustaining jobs. The results were employees that had less absenteeism, greater reliability and better work habits, lower personnel turnover, and good job performance. The results that the research tells us are still valid today for this deserving segment of our population.
If we fail to look beyond our traditional employment pool, we will miss out on a talented group of people that generally possess ideal work characteristics. Working to hire the disabled will help to close part of the manufacturing employment gap and will also strengthen the positive impact you can have on your community.
Individuals interested in exploring the addition of disabled workers to your workforce can benefit from The JAN Workplace Accommodation Toolkit. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) provides "guidance and resources for developing or updating accommodation policies and processes while leveraging the best-proven practices available to date."
I shared in an earlier article that I had once walked into the plant to find a man with a missing leg that was precariously balancing himself on crutches. We were facing a similar issue to the current state of manufacturing hiring in that we could not find enough help. Sadly, what I saw was the missing leg. However, I am grateful for individuals like social entrepreneur John Durand of MDI. He instead saw a talented pool of individuals wanting a chance for meaningful employment and offered it to them. I also appreciate that my mindset has evolved over the years.
Next week's blog will focus on using the military recruiter model to educate a wide range of potential employees on the benefits of a manufacturing career. In addition, establishing a diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization is crucial to the humanist manufacturing framework.
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