Four Untapped Labor Markets for Hiring Employees: Grow Your Company and Drive Innovation

The definition of an ideal worker is changing.

Today’s low unemployment rate makes it difficult for both large companies and growing startups to find people to fill vacant positions. According to a recent survey, 80 percent of employers have difficulty hiring employees and filling jobs, it’s usually due to a lack of qualified candidates.

Rather than searching for typical employees using traditional methods, some employers turn to the untapped labor market to help them grow and innovate, when hiring new employees. These potential employees don’t always come knocking when you submit job postings. They may even have stopped looking for work. But the untapped labor pool can be a gold mine of reliable, productive workers — if you know where to find them.

Stay-at-home Parents

Mothers and fathers who have taken a career break often have a difficult time finding work. Stay-at-home parents sometimes lose touch with their professional networks. Employers ask them to explain the gap in their resumes. Bias and discrimination against mothers is another obstacle in employment. Some parents are happy at home, but others feel pushed out by their workplaces and would return in the right circumstances.

Patagonia does its best to create those circumstances. Their child-friendly environment, including on-site child care and paid parental leave, helped their turnover rate become one of the lowest in the industry. 

A family-friendly culture can include flexible schedules, paid leave, and remote work, but also doesn’t exclude parents (especially mothers) in opportunities for promotions and leadership.

Retirees and Skilled Seniors

As Baby Boomers retire, many industries can’t find enough younger workers with the necessary skills to fill those vacancies. This is especially true in industries like construction, manufacturing, agriculture, and health care.

Your retiring workforce doesn’t have to be inaccessible. If you persuade retiring workers to stay at your organization, you may fill some employment gaps, even if it’s on a part-time or consulting basis. By re-hiring retired employees, you’ll save time and money since retiring employees understand the organization and don’t need training. 

Some retired people, ready for a change, choose temporary or seasonal work to try out a new career path without a long-term commitment. Employers often hire retired workers permanently after their seasonal employment ends.

Despite the stereotype of the grey-haired golfer, many retired people enjoy working and earning money. Research shows that approximately 40 percent of retired people would return to employment if they were offered a job. The catch? They want flexible hours. So if you’re looking for some senior employees, consider some not-quite-full-time options.

Returning Citizens

For the formerly incarcerated, transitioning to employment can be difficult. Employment barriers such as lack of work experience, employers’ unwillingness to hire, and legal restrictions, lead to high unemployment rates for ex-offenders.

Since employment reduces recidivism and helps people regain confidence and provide for their families, the government incentivizes employers with programs such as federal bonding and tax credits. Yet employers may still wonder if the employee will be reliable and perform their job well. These fears create barriers and are often unfounded—82 percent of people on parole are at least as successful as the average employee. 

Pamela Lachman, Director of Strategic State Initiatives at the Center for Employment Opportunities in New York City, works to connect formerly incarcerated people to permanent employment. “Once businesses demonstrate an openness to hiring formerly incarcerated people, they see a huge benefit,” Lachlan says. “Ex-offenders are, for the most part, extremely motivated high performers.”

So how can an employer access this demographic of untapped labor? Lachman recommends three best practices:

1. Make sure your policies and procedures are inclusive. Don’t allow a prospective employee’s previous conviction to automatically disqualify them from employment.

2. Be proactive in seeking out the formerly incarcerated. Recruit with the help of partners such as social services or corrections departments that provide training.

3. Educate your organization about the benefits of hiring returning citizens. Make a strong business case to get buy-in from the entire company.

People with Disabilities

Some employers are reluctant to give disabled or chronically ill people employment. It’s easy to make assumptions about a person’s capabilities based on first impressions. Although it’s true that disabled employees may need some help, accommodations don’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. They could include written instructions, specific work surfaces, remote work, rest breaks, screen readers, mobility devices, or others. Accommodations usually aren’t expensive (typically less than $500), provide a return on investment, and can even improve safety and performance for non-disabled employees.

Jill Willcox, Co-Founder of Iterators, LLC.

Jill Willcox, Co-Founder of Iterators, LLC.

As Jill Willcox, Co-Founder and Managing Member of Iterators, LLC (a startup based at CIC Boston that drives innovation by making web and mobile apps more accessible for those with disabilities) says, “Disabled people can do everything — moving from one job to another, increasing their salary, et cetera — just like a traditional employee.” Research shows that disabled people’s job performance is as good or better than that of typical employees. Disabled employees’ unique perspective can enhance employee morale and improve customer relationships.

If you’re open to hiring disabled people, let job seekers know you’re ADA-friendly. Mention words like diversity or remote work in the job description to show your commitment. Contact state and local organizations such as vocational rehabilitation agencies or American Job Centers to let them know what skills you need.

Iterators Team Photo at CIC Boston.

Iterators Team Photo at CIC Boston.

Whenever an employer considers hiring new employees and it may be someone who’s a stay-at-home parent, a retiree, a returning citizen or a disabled person, they may challenge preconceived ideas and stereotypes. Prejudices and concerns can exist at any level of an organization. That’s why it’s so vital to communicate that differences, rather than holding an organization back, help it grow and innovate.

The variety of perspectives from employees not only fills vacancies, but it also brings new ideas and fresh experiences. You may have to dig deeper than you typically do to hire eligible candidates, but the effort is worthwhile. Hiring new employees from the untapped workforce isn’t just a clever way to find new employees–it’s a smart business strategy that benefits everyone. 

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