By Keith Meadows and Kevin McCloskey
Companies understand that there is no more critical point of engagement than between customers and call center representatives, yet employee turnover rates range between 30 and 45 percent in the call center environment, and nearly 40 percent of employers have challenges hiring qualified employees. In reality a talent pool of people exists that remains underutilized, even though it includes job seekers with a diverse range of education, degrees, professional certifications, work experience, and skills: people with disabilities.
What Is a Disability?
It is important to understand the wide range of people this talent pool represents. One in five people in the United States have some type of disability, and many face challenges in getting hired. The term disability includes people with hidden disabilities such as depression, PTSD, anxiety disorders, and ADD/ADHD. It also includes developmental disabilities such as Down syndrome and physical disabilities that impact mobility, dexterity, vision, or hearing. A final group includes disabilities due to medical conditions, injury, or aging, such as Parkinson’s, stroke, traumatic brain injury, or cancer.
While it might seem that most disabilities are physical and visually apparent, 70 percent of all disabilities are hidden. A large percentage of individuals with disabilities include those “aging into disability” for the first time, as well as veterans with disabilities returning to the civilian workforce. Some well-known celebrities with hidden disabilities include Justin Timberlake, Olympic record breaker Michael Phelps, and Apple’s Steve Jobs.
Disabilities do not discriminate; they cut across all dimensions of diversity including gender, race, and ethnicity. Within the disability population is an even larger range of experience, education, skills, and knowledge.
Business versus Charity:
Contrary to the historical view that hiring people with disabilities is a charitable thing to do, leading companies such as PepsiCo, Synchrony Financial, Aramark, and Staples have demonstrated that diversifying a workforce has a tremendously positive business impact.
Call centers that have implemented a comprehensive disability recruitment strategy to fill crucial talent gap realize beneficial results. When hiring, managers spend less time interviewing. Turnover is lower, productivity is higher, savings are achieved, and there is more time to develop and support current employees.
In addition to attracting an untapped talent pool, there is a market opportunity for companies. When companies hire people with diverse perspectives, they can inform product and service development, advertising, and customer service to engage diverse customer markets. Currently people with disabilities are the largest minority in America, with a combined annual spending power of 645 billion dollars. Additionally, seventy million families have a least one member with a disability. Family, friends, and allies are fiercely loyal with their purchasing dollars and will support companies who hire those with disabilities by consciously selecting their products and services over competitors.
Case Study: Pepsi ACT:
Pepsi ACT (Achieving Change Together) was developed as a best-practice model in attracting and hiring talent with disabilities across PepsiCo. It has been implemented in nine locations in the US, including a call center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In this call center, there are two sides of the business: sales and equipment repairs.
Partnerships were developed with surrounding community-based organizations, including the state vocational rehabilitation offices, workforce centers, and others to create a three-day training course for job seekers with disabilities interested in a call center career. Job seekers could choose to apply directly to the job opportunities or take advantage of the training course.
The training consisted of interview preparation, soft skills practice, call center education, and personalized Q&A sessions with Pepsi HR professionals. The process resulted in job seekers being prepared and ready for consideration, and in turn, new employees ready to work. More than fifty people were hired. The retention of the employees proved to be above average, and the recruiting team cut their interview-to-hire ratio by half. A bonus was a surprise visit from former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, along with national and local recognition.
Case Study: Synchrony Financial:
Launched as a pilot in Synchrony’s business operations center in the Dayton, Ohio, area, attracting and hiring people with disabilities has become a part of the company’s day-to-day recruiting strategy. The initial focus was on roles with anticipated workforce growth, including customer service representatives who assist cardholders with a myriad of services and collections representatives.
Both roles require positive customer service, patience, problem solving, and empathy. The pilot resulted in sixty hires within the first year and recently expanded to the Phoenix, Arizona, operations center, where seventeen new employees with disabilities have been hired.
Companies show a 14 percent higher retention rate among the employees hired with disabilities than overall in the same roles. They have also seen an increase in self-disclosures by 50 percent (which are important to compliance for corporations with federal contracts) and a strengthened workforce diversity. This also reflects a positive workplace culture where employees feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work.
How Do Employers Do It?
Companies have several ways to connect with job seekers with disabilities. Cultivating talent partnerships is an important part of creating strong talent pipelines in the community. Corporate consulting services are available to create customized, inclusive, hiring strategies and forge these talent partnerships.
Call center managers also can take the following steps:
- Conduct research within your geographic recruitment community. There often might be fifty to seventy-five community-based organizations in your area. It is important to start wide to identify partners who can connect you with job seekers who meet your talent needs.
- Utilize those partnerships to increase your pipeline of talent through a variety of pre-application engagement activities. These can be on-site informational sessions, call center-specific trainings, or simply a guide to help partners prepare their referrals prior to application. This leads to qualified and work-ready candidates heading your way.
- Post open positions on employment websites for people with disabilities; this is a great way to begin building a new pipeline of talent. For instance, more than 300,000 people with disabilities visit the Disability Solutions online career center every month to find a job.
- Give feedback through open communication. Focus on talent acquisition and retention. It is reasonable for a business to expect a new employee to arrive day one with the requirements and abilities to perform the job, but expecting new employees to know everything it takes to be successful with your company right away is not. Smart employers focus on developing talent.
- Provide natural supports, mentors, and ongoing training to develop the best employees and promote retention.
People with disabilities represent both a talent and customer market that call centers should engage with for success. As with any new effort, getting started can be the most difficult part. Companies who are leading the way and seeing positive results have developed a strategy, communicated their commitment both internally and externally, and committed the resources to effectively attract and reach out to job seekers with disabilities and partners with community organizations. Ready to get started?
Kevin McCloskey is the director of partnership development and Keith Meadows is the hiring and engagement consultant at Disability Solutions, a division of Ability Beyond. Disability Solutions is a national nonprofit consulting service headquartered in Connecticut that partners with corporate clients to hire job seekers with disabilities. For more information visit www.disabilitytalent.org and www.disabilitysolutionstalent.org.