2013 Employment Trends: Disability diversity, networking and a personal brand


Looking back at calendar year 2013, some employment trends are apparent.

Networking, according to almost every published report, has replaced the online job listing as the most effective way of hiring or finding a new job.  Networks can be in-person or through various media.

Creating a personal brand is the latest trend among job seekers, and employers are finding that a distinct personal brand makes a candidate easier to evaluate.  (As a pundit put it, a “personal brand” is what stays in the room after you leave it.)

According to US Dept. of Labor statistics, the overall job market is picking up, with a big majority of sectors hiring.  Almost 60 percent of small businesses plan to hire in 2014, and the economy has averaged 200,000 new jobs per month for the last half of the calendar year.

But the labor supply doesn’t match demand.  There are more than 12 million people unemployed and 3.6 million open positions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  American manufacturers alone have 600,000 open positions, and 34% of companies say they are having trouble filling open positions.

Disability Diversity

While the employment figures for employees with disabilities are mixed, JVS Chicago Manager of Program Administration Bob Parkinson said that employees with disabilities are being hired for a wider array of jobs and more often integrated into the workplace than they used to be.

“The barriers have come down,” said Parkinson.  “People – including decision makers – are more open to people with disabilities.  High-visibility employees with disabilities at companies like Jewel, Home Depot and Lowe’s have helped change public perceptions, as have social service agencies.  Some disabilities like autism have become more common, so more families have relatives with disabilities.  The trend toward hiring people with disabilities is more natural than it is charitable – which is as it should be.  People with disabilities aren’t looking for charity.  They want to be citizens, not shut-ins.”

The federal government has made efforts to encourage disability diversity.  The Office of Disability Employment Policy has sponsored the Campaign for Disability Employment; published Building an Inclusive Workforce, a four-step reference guide to employing people with disabilities, and developed the new Add Us In initiative to help small businesses employ people with disabilities.

Karen Tamley, Chicago’s Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, said that there has been significant progress on the national level.  Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) issued two reports titled ‘Unfinished Business’ with his recommendations of what he’d like to see done for job seekers and workers with disabilities.  Delaware Gov. Jack Markell used his platform as Chairman of the National Governor’s Association to release a state-level employment blueprint for employing people with disabilities, “A Better Bottom Line,” that involves the public and private sectors.

“There is a big movement out there to push for more integrative and supportive work opportunities for people with disabilities,” Tamley said.  “As someone who’s working in this field, I’m seeing more conversation about this issue in corporations and companies than I’ve ever seen in the past.  More and more companies are looking to recruit a workforce that includes people with disabilities.”

To the staff at JVS Chicago, hiring people with disabilities is simply a good business strategy.

“Employers are recognizing projected labor shortages as the baby-boom generation retires, and non-employed people with disabilities represent a valuable pool of human resources to help fill the projected labor shortage,” said Jonathan Roth, a JVS Chicago Employment Services Representative. “Corporations are increasingly recognizing the benefits of workplace diversity. Providing greater opportunities to people with disabilities enhances diversity in ways that improve employee performance and expand the customer base. Most large corporations today have diversity programs, and a growing number are including disability as one of the criteria for a diverse workforce.”

Job seekers with disabilities face employment challenges, of course;  according to US Census figures, the employment rate of people with disabilities is well below the rate for others.  Illinois is a state with a low rate of people with disabilities – one of the five lowest in the country, according to census figures, but nevertheless the state has more than 1.3 million people with disabilities, 675,000 of them between 18-64 years old.  The employment rate for Illinois residents with disabilities is 33.4 percent, slightly above the US average;  the employment rate for others of employment age is roughly double that.  In Illinois, about 225,000 of the 675,000 people with disabilities 18-64 years old have a job.

Roth said that some employers think that employees with disabilities cost more money (often not the case), and there remains some old-fashioned discrimination.  Employees with disabilities traditionally have had more jobs in employment sectors that are shrinking and fewer jobs in the tech sectors that are expanding, which affected 2013 employment statistics (mixed results).  But the trend, especially among decision makers, seems to be toward inclusion and integration of people with disabilities into the workforce.

But the push to diversify and integrate people with disabilities into the workplace continues, with a big push, according to Tamley, from the federal government.

“The seven percent goal for federal contractors released last August has motivated some hiring,” she said, “and President Obama setting a goal of 100,000 people with disabilities in the federal workforce sent a very strong message.”

Locally, Tamley has been hosting roundtable breakfasts for local employers that showcase how people with disabilities can be successfully integrated into the workforce.

“A big chanworking_groceriesge,” said Tamley, “is that the conversation has elevated away from ‘what does the ADA require?’ to ‘what are our diversification and integration strategies for employees with disabilities?’”

What Employers Want

Roth also reports that he has noticed trends this year that involve what employers are seeking from prospective employees, including those with disabilities:

  • Employers want to work with people they can trust.  Honesty, starting with the resume, starts a job seeker on the right path with a prospective employer.
  • Taking responsibility for actions and giving credit where it’s due are valued behaviors.  Employers and managers value integrity and authenticity because those attributes reflect positively on the  company.
  • Companies need employees to be team players.  Collaborating with “internal customers” – other employees – is as important as successfully relating to external customers.
  • Dedication and motivation count.  Employers don’t want to settle for someone who does only what is required.  Valuable employees do more than that.
  • A positive work culture is vital for the company’s and its employees’ health – so hiring people with a good attitude and sense of humor is important.  People can work comfortably and cooperatively with someone who’s cheerful.
  • It’s wise to hire people whose values are similar to the company’s.  Candidates who have values similar to the hiring company’s are more likely to meet the company’s needs, and they tend to adapt faster to a new role (hint to job seekers:  research the company’s culture).

In 2013, JVS Chicago placed employees with disabilities into companies including Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, the US government and River North Business Association.  The agency remains a resource for a broad range of employment services and has a pre-screened pool of job seekers, including those with disabilities.  JVS Chicago also offers workshops for professionals and business owners through the Illinois SBDC/Duman Entrepreneurship Center.  Learn more at www.jvschicago.org


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