Prospective employees may have leverage in Massachusetts’ competitive labor market

Jill Eastman, ICI Employment Specialist Program Coordinator, interviewed for Boston Globe article

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in 2021 there were nearly 11 million job openings across the US, but only 6.3 million unemployed people. Often in competitive labor markets, employers start to “screen in” employees they would traditionally exclude from their hiring pools. These 27 million “hidden workers” are usually people who are formerly incarcerated, people with disabilities, immigrants, veterans, caregivers, and people who live in unstable housing.

According to 2021 Harvard Business School study, Hidden Workers: Untapped Talent, 75% of employers used automated hiring systems that screened out certain candidates, including candidates with disabilities. This detrimental hiring practice creates barriers that disproportionately impact people of color and people who primarily speak languages other than English.

Are employers beginning to expand their options? Last December, 13% more people with disabilities were employed than in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in February 2020. Jill Eastman shared how employers who are looking for qualified candidates have been increasingly more likely to engage in conversations with job seekers with disabilities and employment services staff to learn more about how their unique qualifications and skills could match with their existing business and hiring needs.

“Employers seem more inclined to negotiate job descriptions, customize schedules, and offer accommodations to job seekers with disabilities, which often leads to successful outcomes for both the job seeker and the employer. Furthermore, more than ever, employers in many sectors (food service, hospitality, education, and health services) have been reaching out to organizations like the ICI to not only find job seekers to fill their positions, but to also learn more about how to best support employees with disabilities once they’ve been hired to promote their overall success and professional development.”

The Boston Globe shared stories of formerly incarcerated employees and employees with disabilities entering the labor market in 2021 after years of applying for jobs and being turned away. Now in Massachusetts, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development has offered $854K to help organizations that help young adults with disabilities find jobs.

In 2022, we hope to see permanent changes in workforce screening methods that remove barriers to employment for people with disabilities and others who have been marginalized by employer hiring practices.

Read more in the Boston Globe article, With job vacancies high, employers seek out workers they might have previously passed over.