Business owners struggling to fill job openings during the current labor shortage have a golden opportunity to access an enormous untapped talent pool of candidates who are ready to work.
The Harvard Business School Project on Managing the Future of Work and Accenture’s "Hidden Workers: Untapped Talent report” estimates that there are currently more than 27 million people—or “hidden workers”—who are unemployed or underemployed in the U.S. and eager to get a job or increase their working hours. These potential employees—also called “nontraditional” candidates—are often overlooked due to hiring processes that can unintentionally exclude them from consideration.
“The sheer magnitude of the hidden worker population reveals the potential impact that their substantial reabsorption into the workforce would have,” the report states.
Individuals who fit this genre include caregivers, veterans, immigrants and refugees, retirees, people with physical or mental disabilities, individuals who do not have a degree, and those who have gaps in their employment history or have experienced difficult times and need a second chance in the workforce. The common denominator: They don’t meet the traditional skillsets or educational prerequisites outlined in many job descriptions. It’s also important to note that anyone can fall under the “hidden worker” umbrella at some point in their working life, depending on individual circumstances.
A surge in job openings in the summer and fall of 2021 has outpaced the number of people looking for work—causing frustration and headaches for many organizations searching for new employees. Some experts believe the current labor shortage is temporary, while others see it as an indicator that transformation is on the horizon. The “Hidden Workers” report suggests that this massive shift in the labor market offers an excellent opportunity to modernize traditional hiring processes in the U.S. and reacquaint employers with nontraditional employee groups and the benefits they bring to the workplace.
Here’s how expanding your recruiting talent pool and revisiting your company’s job qualification and credential requirements can help you gain an edge in today’s competitive recruiting environment.
Look Beyond the Traditional Resume to Expand Your Recruiting Talent Pool
Career pathways are nonlinear, and people move through them in different ways. Some take a more traditional path and obtain a four-year degree before starting their career, while others choose—or are forced to enter the workforce without a high school diploma or proper training. Some individuals, for example, experience challenges during their youth but learn from their mistakes and ultimately bring a well of untapped talent to the workforce. Others may have employment gaps on their resume. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, many employees were laid off, furloughed, or had to leave their jobs to care for children and loved ones. Some of these workers—women, in particular—may have trouble finding employment in the future due to the time they spent away from the workplace.
Following are nontraditional employees who are overlooked at times but possess talent and experience that could enhance your company culture and benefit your bottom line.
While some professions require specific degrees and training—the medical and engineering disciplines, for example—other jobs have flexible requirements and can be filled by a diverse range of candidates. Many qualified candidates, however, are excluded from consideration because they lack a four-year or two-year degree.
"Degree inflation—the rising demand for a four-year college degree for jobs that previously did not require one—is a substantive and widespread phenomenon that is making the U.S. labor market more inefficient," according to The Harvard Business School Project on Managing the Future of Work and Accenture's “Dismissed by Degrees: How degree inflation is undermining U.S. competitiveness and hurting America’s middle class.” The team surveyed 600 business and human resource leaders and found that, for certain positions, employees with a college degree did not outperform those without one.
Their findings included the following:
- Employers pay more, often significantly more, for college graduates to do jobs also filled by non-degree holders without any material improvement in productivity.
- Many employers reported that non-graduates with experience perform nearly or equally well on critical dimensions like time to reach full productivity, time to promotion, level of productivity, or amount of oversight required.
- Seeking college graduates makes many middle-skills jobs harder to fill, and once hired, college graduates demonstrate higher turnover rates and lower engagement levels.
What You Can Do
Review job descriptions that currently require a degree to determine if that requirement is a "must," and if not, remove that filter from your resume-screening processes. This will allow you to include nontraditional candidates with relevant hard and soft skills and expertise—those who don't currently meet your standard educational requirements. You can also create partnerships with local organizations such as high schools, vocational colleges, community colleges, and workforce training programs to help build curriculum and design programs that teach hard and soft skills required for middle-skills jobs.
It’s often difficult for individuals who have been incarcerated to reenter the workforce. According to the Second Chance Business Population (SCBP), more than 78 million Americans have a criminal record, which is a quarter of the U.S. population. As a result, employers that exclude candidates from this nontraditional group miss out on a large pool of qualified talent.
"Research shows that nearly nine in 10 employers require applicants to undergo a background check, and a criminal record can reduce the chances of a second interview by 50 percent," states the SCBP. "As a result of this and other challenges, the 27 percent unemployment rate among formerly incarcerated people in the United States, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, was higher than at any other point in U.S. history, including during the Great Depression."
It is to be expected that employers have concerns about hiring individuals who have criminal records. Still, there are many benefits associated with hiring second-chance candidates as employees, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in "What to Know About Second Chance Hiring and Why It Could Help Solve Your Labor Problems." The article states that many people are working hard to overcome mistakes made in their past and are engaged and loyal employees.
Hiring second-chance candidates can also help advance diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and could qualify your business for the federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit, which gives employers a tax credit of up to 25% of the employee’s first year's wages if the employee works at least 120 hours, and 40% if they work over 400 hours.
What You Can Do
Conduct research on second chance hiring practices to learn about businesses that have hired employees in this nontraditional group. This can help you to make an educated decision about considering this group in your recruiting and hiring processes.
Resources to consider include:
- Second Chance Business Coalition
- 70 Million Jobs
- Second Chance Hiring – The Manufacturing Institute
- SHRM Foundation’s Getting Talent Back to Work Initiative
In addition, you can learn more about the U.S. Department of Labor’s Reentry Employment Opportunities (REO) program and how your company can participate. For example, the REO allots approximately $25 million each year for activities that prepare young ex-offenders and school dropouts for employment, prioritizing projects serving high-crime, high-poverty communities.
Candidates With Disabilities
Though the U.S. has come a long way toward including and embracing employees with disabilities, it can still be difficult for this group to find work, according to Humanities and Social Sciences Communications' "The economic argument for hiring people with disabilities."
"This is mainly because of negative prejudices of employers, which often believe that people with disabilities are not able to perform as efficiently as non-disabled workers, or that they are a burden rather than a source of added value to the company," the article states. In fact, people with disabilities perform work with high levels of efficiency, commitment, and productivity.
According to the Small Business Administration, employees with disabilities benefit your business by:
- Expanding your talent pool
- Creating a culture of diversity
- Meeting workforce needs
- Fostering creative business solutions
- Generating goodwill among customers
You can also qualify for federal incentives and programs that help you make changes to your workplace to accommodate disabled employees, including the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), the Barrier Removal Deduction, and the Disabled Access Credit.
What You Can Do
The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) supports several initiatives and provides resources for businesses interested in hiring individuals with disabilities. Whether you employ individuals with disabilities or not, ensure your business is complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and other laws and regulations that address disability nondiscrimination to avoid litigation or fines for noncompliance.
For example, Title I of the ADA states that employers with 15 or more employees cannot discriminate against a qualified individual—someone who can perform the essential functions of a job—with or without reasonable accommodation, on the basis of disability in any employment practice including recruiting, hiring, firing, promotions and job assignments. It also requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodation—modifications or adjustments to the work environment, the application process, and other programs/policies—to qualified applicants or employees with disabilities, unless doing so would cause undue hardship to the employer.
Update Your Company’s Recruiting Strategies to Attract Nontraditional Candidates
Of organizations surveyed by the surveyed by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) in mid-2021, 60% say they can't find applicants with the right skills, and 30% of job seekers say their skills don't match available jobs. This disparity could indicate that current recruiting techniques do not align with employers' and employees' changing needs. Furthermore, some organization’s processes inadvertently screen or exclude nontraditional candidates. Consider updating your company’s recruiting and hiring strategies to accommodate this vast pool of valued talent.
You can also take the following actions to ensure your company doesn’t miss out on beneficial recruiting opportunities:
Review and refresh your company’s job descriptions
Whether your company is filling an existing position or adding a new one, review the job description carefully to ensure that skills, experience, and education requirements align with the position's role and responsibilities within your organization. Almost two-thirds of employers surveyed for the Hidden Workers: Untapped Talent report acknowledged often using an existing job posting—or only slightly modifying one—when posting the position for a new hire. "Ironically, when employers bolt important new requirements onto their existing job descriptions, they risk excluding applicants with knowledge gained through deep experience derived from years of work but lack one or more skills added only recently," according to the report. In addition, avoid detailed or lengthy job descriptions that can discourage potential applicants.
Optimize your automated recruiting technologies
Recruiting technologies can play an essential role in streamlining your hiring processes. An Applicant Tracking System (ATS), for example, is a workflow-oriented tool that helps organizations manage and track their applicant pipelines by sourcing, tracking, and interacting with candidates throughout the hiring process. And a Recruiting Management or Marketing System (RMS) complements the ATS and supports recruiters in marketing open positions, sourcing key talent, creating talent pools, and automating aspects of the recruiting process—such as automated candidate scoring and interview scheduling. These systems are designed to maximize efficiencies but are programmed to narrow in on precise parameters. As a result, they can inadvertently screen out candidates who might possess unique skills and attributes that would benefit the position and your organization.
According to the Hidden Workers: Untapped Talent report, 94% of employers surveyed agreed that their automated processes could exclude qualified middle-skills candidates because they do not match the exact criteria established by the job description. Review the requirements programmed into your ATS to ensure it is not too rigid and reflects updated job descriptions. And don't rely solely on technology to filter resumes—utilize your employees' valuable recruiting skills to supplement the system.
Customize your candidate sourcing methods
Be proactive and strategic when posting your job openings. Don't be afraid to post job descriptions on emerging sites like TikTok, Twitter, or YouTube, in addition to more traditional job posting sites. Also, keep an open mind when searching for potential candidates.
"When sourcing candidates, make sure you're not just searching for people with the exact job title of your open position," according to G&A Partners' "How to Avoid Hiring the Wrong Person." "There are so many different job titles out there that all essentially mean the same thing but may not turn up in an exact search. The same goes for skills-based buzzwords. Instead, conduct semantic-based searches that include terms that directly tie into the responsibilities of your particular posting."
Ironically, when employers bolt important new requirements onto their existing job descriptions, they risk excluding applicants with knowledge gained through deep experience derived from years of work but lack one or more skills added only recently.
— Accenture and Harvard Business School, "Hidden Workers: Untapped Talent."
Focus more on getting to know promising candidates
Pre-employment screenings, applications, and resumes can only provide so much insight into how well a candidate will fit in with an organization's culture. Face-to-face interviews are one of the most crucial elements of a hiring process, so when you encounter a promising candidate but are unsure of the job fit, use a face-to-face interview to explore their potential further. That may require you to revamp your company's interviewing processes.
The most productive interviews follow a clear script, focusing on direct and revealing questions relevant to the open position's requirements. Glassdoor recommends ongoing training for your company's hiring managers on interview methods, particularly those that apply to interviewing nontraditional candidates.
It’s also a great idea to create interview questions that help you learn more about the candidate's personality type, communication style, fears, values, and unique characteristics. Remember to approach each interview with an open mind and focus on the candidate rather than the resume.
“By all means, ensure your candidates have the minimal qualifications needed to perform the job you’re advertising, but then it's just as critical to find that cultural fit,” says Eleesha Martin, Manager of Recruitment Process Outsourcing for G&A Partners. “Is this candidate going to be a true team player? Do they seem to have a good attitude? A candidate can have 10 degrees but if they have a bad attitude that’s going to cost you in employee morale down the road. Do your due diligence in vetting candidates before offering them a position. Make sure you’re not just hiring warm bodies, but you’re hiring warm souls.”
Martin says hiring managers can achieve this by:
- Asking behavioral style questions in the interview process: "Tell me about the time you had a difficult customer or patient; what made them difficult and how did you how did you respond?”
- Asking that they submit a combination of personal and professional references
- Checking their LinkedIn account to see what professional associations they might be involved in and reviewing their online recommendations if they have any
“Asking candidates these types of questions may help you uncover how they will respond to conflict in the future, and how they’ll fit into your organization’s culture,” Martin says. “Past performance will predict future performance.”
Consider broadening job qualification and credential requirements
Though unintentional, your company may be excluding a large group of workers from consideration for employment because their skillsets, employment history, or educational background is nontraditional. The “Hidden Workers: Untapped Talent” report recommends, "Developing talent management pipeline strategies to tap into those pools that would allow companies to escape the trap of pursuing the unrealistically 'perfect' candidate.”
Companies that hire hidden workers report being 36% less likely to face talent and skills shortages compared to companies that do not, the “Hidden Workers” report states. The report further indicates that former hidden workers outperform their peers on six critical evaluative criteria—attitude and work ethic, productivity, quality of work, engagement, attendance, and innovation.
How G&A Can Help
If you need help navigating the challenging labor market, consider working with a professional employer organization (PEO) such as G&A Partners. Our team of experts can help you source and hire the most qualiﬁed candidates for your organization and implement long-term retention strategies.