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Tapping an Underutilized Talent Pool

Aug. 18, 2017
Searching for a skilled, diverse pool of employees to fill the jobs gap? Don’t overlook candidates with disabilities.

Nearly 40% of employers are having challenges hiring qualified employees, while at the same time one in five people in the U.S. have some type of disability and are facing challenges in getting hired. Some disabilities are visible (e.g., physical disabilities) and some are hidden (low or no vision or hearing, mental health, medical conditions, learning, and cognitive disabilities, among others). As a country, we have a large population “aging into disability” and veterans with disabilities returning to the civilian workforce.

I am often asked about the types of jobs a person with a disability can do, and my answer is always the same: “What do you have?” The reality is that the talent pool of people with disabilities remains underutilized, although it includes jobseekers with as wide and diverse a range of education, degrees, professional certifications, work experience, and skills as it includes disabilities.

Talent with disabilities bring alternative perspectives to getting jobs done, problem solving, and reaching goals. It is this unique perspective and life experiences that can contribute innovative ideas, processes, and market reach.

A large, growing customer market for your products and services. People with disabilities in the United States alone represent an annual spending power of $645 billion, and their friends and families—those who would make spending decisions based on how inclusive and accessible a company may be—represent another $4 trillion in annual spending. This is both a talent and customer market that businesses want to engage. When your employees can give you a unique lens to a customer market, they can inform advertising, product development, customer service, and more.

An opportunity to lead in talent and market. This is not about charity, but smart business. Our clients range across industries and include some familiar brands, such as PepsiCo, Synchrony Financial, American Express, Aon, and Staples. These companies and others who are taking action in hiring are seeing real business results. They are realizing cost savings on recruiting costs and achieving productivity wins—with an average 14% higher retention rate, much quicker rates of hiring (filling key positions faster), and higher rates of “self-disclosure” (50%-plus higher), which is important for compliance for government contractors and demonstrates a positive, inclusive work culture.

What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas: PepsiCo engages new talent pool to meet workforce needs in Vegas and across the country. We began working with PepsiCo in late 2013 with the launch of the Pepsi ACT (Achieving Change Together) initiative. The goal? To attract and hire talent with disabilities, including veterans across the country, to meet their workforce needs.

Developed as a national model for next-generation hiring practices, ACT has since become a part of its overall talent strategy. Filling job opportunities across all career and experience levels, to date, the ACT model has been implemented across nine U.S. cities, including Las Vegas. Contrary to the popular “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” Pepsi ACT has been expanding with each location, successfully employing and retaining talent with disabilities.

Staffing a new facility. PepsiCo’s Certified Center in Las Vegas is one of three unique Pepsi Certified Centers in the country focused on refurbishing Pepsi’s marketing equipment—coolers, vending machines, and fountain machines. The equipment arrives at the facility and is either scrapped for parts or taken apart, put back together, and certified for use.

The Vegas facility was a new design and build. it needed to be completely staffed. Positions included utility/forklift technicians, a non-technical role responsible for various tasks involved in the refurbishment of marketing equipment, such as cleaning, disassembly, repetitive reassembly, and the movement of equipment throughout the production process. Also needed were skilled technical roles including the Certified Center Technician I/II, responsible for the diagnosis, troubleshooting, repairing, and testing of equipment. The position requires a high level of understanding of electrical and mechanical concepts, and the ability to perform the required repairs.

Talent partnerships were developed to build a pipeline of talent referrals from a variety of sources, including the Nevada Department of Employment, Training, and Rehabilitation, U.S Vets and the Wounded Warrior Project.  Our team worked with the Pepsi site leader to put in place a training program that offered education in both the soft and hard skills required. The facility opened in September 2014, with 21 new employees with disabilities representing just under 50% of the total hires. Veterans with disabilities represented 20% of those hires, including one manager.

Julio Padilla, manager of the Vegas Certified Center, supervises 43 employees and championed the ACT hiring initiative. “They are incredible workers—willing and eager to learn, and focused on productivity and meeting team goals,” said Padilla. “It didn’t take me long to realize that I wasn’t hiring people with disabilities. I was hiring the best people for the job.”

Growing talent competition. As the competition for top talent increases, leading companies including PepsiCo, Synchrony Financial, American Express, AON, and Aramark are tapping in to this valuable and underutilized talent pool, and are recognizing measurable and meaningful business outcomes.

What type of jobs can a person with a disability do? You know my answer.

Kris Foss is the managing director of Disability Solutions at Ability Beyond. The consulting division of nonprofit Ability Beyond, Disability Solutions creates customized plans for companies to strengthen their workforce by hiring and retaining talent with disabilities. Find out more here, or contact her at 203-948-2338.

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