NOW HIRING! The help wanted signs are everywhere these days, whether it’s the local sandwich shop around the corner or the high-tech Fortune 500 company. Today, there are nearly twice as many job openings as there were before the pandemic, according to US Bureau of Labor data.
Whether it’s due to concerns about health, childcare, wages, or just early retirements, our workforce supply is not keeping pace with demand in many sectors of our economy. In this tight labor market, finding qualified workers can pose a real challenge. The issue is even more acute here in Massachusetts, a state where we don’t have vast gold, oil, and mineral reserves or year-round sunshine to help power our economy. Instead, we rely on people power –– our skilled workforce.
We can address these labor challenges by focusing on upskilling and reskilling our existing workforce and by tapping into pools of underrepresented and underutilized labor. Hiring and empowering individuals with disabilities is one proven way to do both. Even with our current low unemployment rate we know that individuals with disabilities remain significantly underemployed in the job market.
Individuals with disabilities often face a myriad of barriers to employment. These can include transportation, physical and technical barriers, benefits management, workplace stigmas, or just misplaced fears of costly accommodations or lawsuits. As a result, persons with disabilities represent an underutilized source of talent and thus a key to unlock some of our current labor challenges.
Many smart employers already know this. A number of Bay State business leaders have already embraced disability inclusive hiring practices in their business models –– and not just for altruistic or public relations purposes, but as a tangible boost to their bottom line. Hiring individuals with disabilities is a business imperative that yields a competitive advantage over companies that do not hire from this talent pool, according to a report compiled by the Legislature’s WorkAbility Committee last session.
These competitive advantages include higher employee retention rates, reduced personnel expenses, and stronger customer or brand loyalty. By widening the scope of their hiring practices, these businesses were able to successfully expand their pool of applicants and find more qualified employees.
This October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. It’s the perfect time for all of us to promote disability employment issues and celebrate the varied contributions of our workers with disabilities. There are many easy ways for employers to adopt more disability inclusive hiring practices and expand their pool of talent.
Most areas of the state are served by a Regional Employment Collaborative that can help make the process easier. Organizations like the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, Massachusetts Office on Disability, and the Massachusetts Independent Living Centers also have considerable expertise helping employers and workers with disabilities.
And just to make it all easier here in Massachusetts, there is a new incentive for employers to hire individuals with disabilities. The state’s Disability Employment Tax Credit (DETC) provides a refundable credit of up to $5,000 for hiring a qualified person with a disability in the first year and an additional $2,000 every year thereafter. The Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission has an online certification form for this credit program.
This new tax credit was introduced in the fiscal year 2022 state budget approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker. A resident with a disability hired after July 1, 2021, is eligible to participate in the DETC program.
As many business leaders already know, hiring people with disabilities is not just the right thing to do, it’s the business smart thing to do. With the help of this tax credit and other recent efforts, it’s also the easy thing to do.
State Rep. Josh Cutler is House chairman of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. Joe Bellil is the vice president of public affairs for Easterseals Massachusetts.