The Sierra Group
King of Prussia, PA.
RE: Sept. 29, 2010 Hearing on Federal Contractor Compliance
Dear Mr. Lara – Please accept my within testimony for the record regarding this recent hearing.
The Sierra Group, Inc. is a national consultancy with a mission of reversing the high unemployment rate for people with disabilities in America. The Sierra Group works in all areas surrounding: bring to work, stay at work and return to work. We also sponsor a web portal called Employment Incentives, which provides employment information to more than 150,000 human resource and rehabilitation professionals each month.
Sierra Group’s esteemed services are the result of a diverse staff that delivers customized solutions to businesses, agencies, insurance companies and all customers. Timely tele-seminars on the aging workforce, the ADA Amendment Act and sourcing initiatives for veterans with disabilities are popular new offerings.
Serving corporations and individuals nationally, Sierra consultants offer new employment opportunities to Americans with disabling conditions through a unique mix of experiences working with business, government, schools, and agencies. Sierra Group consults with major corporations, helps small businesses, delivers accessible technology training to the GSA and matches people with disabilities with jobs. Sierra Group’s CEO, Janet Fiore is recognized as an authority on disability policies and practices for business and government. Fiore has championed business incentive legislation that passed the Senate and has offered testimony to Congress on several occasions.
Further, The Sierra Group, Inc., Candidate Sourcing model has assisted employers in the recruitment, hiring, accommodating, advancing and retaining of individuals with disabilities. This private sector model is adaptable, customizable and scalable to a wide variety of businesses.
Regarding the issue of strengthening the affirmative action requirements of Section 503 to measurably increase employment opportunities of covered federal government contractors I recommend that by strengthening the active Enforcement of existing violations over all employment numbers will rise. It is noteworthy that federal contractors are proactively contacting my firm, seeking candidates with disabilities in greater numbers now that the affirmative action requirements have become a focus for enforcement.
Regarding barriers that currently impede Federal contractors from hiring people with disabilities, my 20 years experience in working with job seekers with disabilities indicates that Federal contractors, like many companies have insufficient past experience with the processes and accessibility protocols involved to successfully recruit, test, train and advance workers with disabilities in their companies. Specifically, the areas that I see most predominately in my direct day to day work with businesses and candidates with disabilities are as follows in order of significance:
- Locating qualified applicants with current, and relevant experience is difficult;
- Knowing what accommodations can be made to maximize skills and mitigate disability related limits is a huge obstacle. Mainstream recruiters and hiring managers do not have the time or training to wade through the vast amount of resources and information available in order to ‘find’ the specific accommodation for a specific situation that is business compatible, as well as reasonable to obtain and implement;
- Career sites, online testing and assessment tools are often NOT compatible with assistive technology devices; and/or are not accessible for those applicants with a wide variety of visual or hearing disabilities. This results in many problems including:
- Applicants unable to be considered because they cannot navigate the non-accessible online application process; and/or
- Applicants who are known to be from a targeted group, i.e. veterans or people with disabilities cannot be identified to the Federal Contractor because the contractor has a policy that all applicants MUST come via the website only.
- Corporate training programs often run on a rigid time schedule that does not allow for additional time that may be required for training or accommodation that is disability related, therefore applicants are dismissed without opportunity to be accommodated.
Regarding changes that could be made to the existing language on permissible qualifications standards that would better ensure equal employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities I recommend as follows:
A pool of qualified external recruiters, who have demonstrated expertise in recruiting, testing and training individuals with disabilities, could be designated and that listing could be provided to federal contractors interested in contracting their services.
Regarding OFCCP data tracking protocols for Federal contractor utilization/analyses and in order to establish measurable hiring goals for individuals with disabilities, (within the regulations outlined in Executive Order 11246) I recommend the following data be tracked and analyzed:
Starting with a means to track the numbers of applicants with disabilities who are knowingly recruited, vs. the numbers of non-disabled applicants recruited, the following percentages can be determined for tracking and benchmarking purposes:
% of applicants interviewed: 1st interview disabled non-disabled % of applicants called back for second interview disabled non-disabled % of applicants passing any pre-offer testing disabled non-disabled % of applicants hired disabled non-disabled % of applicants passing any post hire testing disabled non-disabled % of applicants employed 3 months 6 months;
and 1 year later
Percentages for each category listed above should be compared and contrasted in order to determine overall progress toward the goals outlined in the Executive Order.
Similarities in percentages between disabled and non-disabled applicant pools would equal good diversity practices, while divergent percentages will point to areas of the employment practices that require scrutiny and or modification.
Regarding the establishment of placement goals for individuals with disabilities as a suitable measure to increase their employment opportunities within the Federal contractor sector, it is my experienced opinion that this is in fact a required factor to drive up the numbers of employees with disabilities. In fact, without a required measurable goal, and given the obstacles identified previously placements of workers with disabilities will continue to be at its existing low percentage.
Regarding the issue of requests from this group of applicants/employees for workplace flexibility, including flexibility in work schedules, as well as job-protected leave, my professional experience shows that the need for this type of workplace flexibility occurs in less than 10% of candidates served. Regarding on-boarding and retention, the identification of need for flexible work environment is established up front, and while it reduces the number of placed applicants, it also increases retention.
Regarding the need for mandatory and heightened training of employees and/or managers regarding the retention and advancement of individuals with disabilities, it is recommended that a formalized, scheduled yearly training for employees with disabilities on how to request and utilize accommodations, combined with mandatory, recurring manager training on accommodations, strategies and the ADA Amendments Act are key factors to the retention and promotion of employees with disabilities.
Given that Federal contractors are required to invite all job applicants to voluntarily and confidentially identify their race and gender pre-offer, I also recommend that amending the Section 503 regulations to require contractors to invite all applicants to voluntarily and confidentially self-identify if they have a disability prior to an offer of employment will serve as a tool to enhance a federal contractor’s ability to more effectively monitor their hiring practices with respect to applicants with disabilities.
Regarding use of public private partnerships to disseminate information and leading practices from the private sector to the Federal contractors, it is recommended that they be mandated to incorporate both training and recruiting services to avoid non-accessible pitfalls in the recruiting, testing, training and retention practices. Training must be specific and ongoing as situations require it. General training, as currently available, via government resources is a valuable start to the process. Specific training with specific recruiting and accommodation consultation are necessary in the cases where employment is not currently occurring.
It should also be noted that company officials at all levels of management should be in sync with the diverse recruitment goals in order to maximize their implementation/execution. Studies that have been conducted indicate that the higher management mandates carry through to the success or failure of a disability hiring initiative. However, many high level initiatives stall at the recruiter or line supervisor level if inadequate training and support are not provided to these employees. Factors such as production and cost must be weighed by the lower end staff as they chose to hire one candidate over another. Therefore, high level company officials must incent and clarify diversity hiring goals as they relate to candidates with disabilities, or the efforts often fail to fully meet the mark.
Significant impact can result from requiring that Federal contractors and subcontractors make information and communication technology used by job applicants in the job application process, and by employees in connection with their employment fully accessible and usable by individuals with disabilities. In fact, doing so would lead to greater numbers of applicants with disabilities, therefore the likelihood that the number of people with disabilities hired would also increase. The cost/benefit of accessible information technology platforms vary dependent on many IT factors. Building of accessible platforms requires education regarding accessibility factors, and a mandate to follow same – low cost. Restructuring of inaccessible technology platforms can be cost prohibitive. In these instances, human strategy/human accommodations can and should be offered.
BENEFITS of doing so will include:
Compliance with the ADA would be a benefit in and of itself, along with the benefit of making the work environment accessible to the talents offered by candidates with disabilities, including meeting OFCCP standards for recruiting and hiring from this pool.
In closing, any type of small business entity can successfully recruit and hire workers with disabilities – it is an unfortunate myth that only certain types of companies or certain types of jobs can be done by people with disabilities. Regarding the cost of such recruiting and accommodation efforts, small business, in particular can take advantage of available resources through the public program of vocational rehabilitation, the VA, VR&E program, as well as tax incentives which allow for cost offsets and benefits (rather than expense) to the small business. Additionally, OFCCP could reimburse training for small businesses (for the training provider of their choice) regarding how to successfully overcome the factors expanded upon in my response to question number three (3) above, and training on how to obtain financial incentives for doing so.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide input. If you have any questions regarding these comments, please feel free to contact me.
Chief Executive Officer
Candidate Sourcing - Vocational Solutions - Workforce Strategy