If Employers Want to Find Workers, They Should Focus on Equity

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Credit: Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

By Peter Quigley – CEO of Kelly 

As U.S. companies struggle to fill nearly 11 million open jobs, 8.4 million Americans remain unemployed. It’s a troubling gap that represents a structural shift in our national labor market. Yet many employers remain woefully stuck in the past operating under outdated hiring practices while wondering where all the qualified applicants are.

These old-school hiring policies automatically disqualify millions of job seekers from employment, stifle economic mobility and hold back our economy. They stand in stark contrast to many of the public diversity commitments employers have made. They are wrong and they are bad for business. 

The good news is employers can evolve by focusing on equity at work and removing unjust barriers to employment. 

One of these barriers is the long-standing practice of disqualifying workers with criminal histories. It’s estimated that 78 million Americans have a record and the vast majority are non-violent ex-offenders who are unable to find work due to outdated background screening practices and blanket bans. They represent our nation’s largest untapped talent pool – nearly 33% of working-age Americans – and they are just waiting for someone to give them a second chance. 

At Kelly, we’ve seen first-hand how good these workers are for employers. We partnered with Toyota to place second chance workers at the auto giant’s manufacturing plant in Georgetown, Kentucky. The result: Toyota increased its talent pool by 20%, turnover rates improved by an astonishing 70% and overall diversity at the plant went up by more than 8%. Turnover now sits at an all-time monthly low of 3%, and not one of the second chance workers placed has been terminated for behavior correlated to their criminal history. 

Another way employers can evolve is by ending the outdated practice of requiring bachelor’s degrees for all positions when other high-quality credentials suffice. According to Lumina Foundation’s Stronger Nation Report, nearly 52% of working age adults in America have attained some level of education beyond high school. Of that group, 8.1% have earned a short-term credential (certificate or industry-recognized certification). That means nearly 14 million working-age Americans have valuable credentials that many employers simply disregard.

At Kelly, we’re helping employers see this while also changing how we operate internally. We’ve changed our own hiring practices related to criminal offenses and education attainment. We’ve jettisoned outdated workplace policies and practices that disproportionality impact underrepresented and marginalized groups. And we’ve removed salary history from our internal employment applications to narrow or eliminate gender-based pay differences.

Ending outdated practices can be challenging, but employers have resources to help guide the way. Kelly recently joined Accenture, JP Morgan Chase & Company, Microsoft, Verizon and many other leading brands in the Second Chance Business Coalition to help promote best practices. We’re also part of CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, the largest CEO-driven business commitment to advance diversity and inclusion within the workplace. 

Kelly was founded 75 years ago this month. Our company was born out of misalignment in the labor market of the 1940s, when the postwar economic boom was just beginning and companies had more positions available than workers to fill them. While the challenges back then were different than the ones we face today, both eras required new ways of thinking. Back then, our national workforce was dominated by men and William Russell Kelly blazed a trail by offering thousands of women across America their first professional jobs. Today, we aim to knock down barriers for job seekers who have criminal records and those who lack a 4-year degree.

It’s time for more employers to take a firm stand and commit to knocking down the barriers that prevent people from connecting to work. Doing so will address our current talent shortage, usher in a new era of equity and inclusion at work and provide more Americans with the dignity that comes from securing meaningful employment that enriches their lives.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.