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The forgotten population | Features

A Solution to the Shortage of Applicants in Today’s Economy: A Group of People Too Often Overlooked
By Lynda Wheatley | May 14, 2022

You don’t have to be in retail, manufacturing, education, services, or any number of industries to know that employers are hurting for workers. You see it in the long lines at grocery stores, the storefront signs asking for help, and the faces of stressed employees everywhere, probably including your own workplace.

But should it be so? Several local agencies that match job seekers with employers say no and suggest an alternative for those struggling to find staff: consider job seekers who have a disability or are neurodivergent (i.e. i.e. they have atypical cognitive functions related to autism, ADHD, dyslexia or other unique ways of processing information).

An increase in demand
Sherrie Goff-Hoogerhyde is an employment specialist at the Disability Network Northern Michigan. Unlike many employers in the area, who struggle to find job seekers, Goff-Hoogerhyde says she was inundated with them.

“I’ve been doing this for seven years, and I can tell you that [since the pandemic abated] there has been a surge in people asking what they can do, what is available. They want to go to work,” she said.

At the same time, she says, more employers than usual called Disability Network to see if the agency could recommend any of its clients for their open positions. Seems like a lot of matches could be made easily, right? Not exactly. Although the clients Goff-Hoogerhyde works with are eager to work and able to excel in a variety of jobs and tasks, she says one of the biggest hurdles most face is the application process. conventional maintenance.

“Showing up at the employer’s door, asking for an application, filling it out, whether online or on paper, some of our employees are not able to do it. They need help. They need someone to talk to and help them,” she says. “They are good workers, excellent workers, but many cannot read or write, or what they can do is very limited. So that’s the first hurdle. And then, the next is the interview. It is a great fear for them.

In some cases, Goff-Hoogerhyde will accompany a person to apply or interview, prepare them for what they are likely to be asked, or call ahead to see if the employer can make the necessary accommodations. But the time for that is scarce.

Goff-Hoogerhyde is one of two Disability Network employment specialists. When she started, Goff-Hoogerhyde says her workload was typically 12 to 15 clients. These days, she wears 33.

So she and her colleague John Burtrum got creative. They recently launched Job Club, a two-part series that works with small groups of people with disabilities who want help finding and finding work. For five weeks, each series covers topics such as job search and shadowing, accommodations and disclosures, job skills, interviewing and applying. The second series delves into the same topics and adds an element of career assessment.

In the most recent session, residents from Traverse City, Alpena and as far away as New York participated. Two are actively looking for jobs now, one has already landed a job and another, who hasn’t worked in six years, is returning to the series to continue improving her interview skills.

Ready and waiting
Upbound at Work, the employment-focused arm of the Autism Alliance of Michigan (AAoM), also helps job seekers with disabilities — primarily neurodiverse people — connect with employers. Upbound is also seeing an increase in demand from both sides.

“There’s just been a big shift from employers and candidates wanting to re-enter the workforce,” says Kelly Blakeslee, vocational rehabilitation manager at the AAoM. “Specifically, [employers] are desperate for talent and want someone good, someone who matches what they are looking for. And given the shortage…I see employers getting a little more creative.

Currently, Upbound’s job database ( has over 1,700 job seekers at various stages of the employment process, from those just beginning to seek out job resources. employment or to develop skills to those who already have the skills and work history but are looking for a better job. Ford Motor Company has been the organization’s largest partner so far, with employees found by Upbound placed in 10 different departments (and an internship program), although many other companies ranging from family businesses to international companies found an excellent fit.

When an employer contacts Upbound, the agency first conducts an in-person employment and work location verification. “We want to make sure that the setting will be appropriate for someone with autism or a related disability and that the employer doesn’t come into it with preconceived notions,” says Blakeslee.

Colleague Chelsea Fink, account manager for the Traverse City area of ​​Upbound at Work, says some of the common assumptions employers make about someone on the spectrum are that they would only want a very structured, repetitive and predictable, or they don’t want to be around other people. It’s not always the case.

“I have a lot of people who are very social and want to engage with their team members, or who want to learn something new and think outside the box and update, change, and improve processes within their organization. an organization,” she says.

After talking with the employer about obstacles or helpful accommodations, Fink says she always goes the extra mile: “I tell the employer, ‘I really want to see all of your job descriptions.’ …Perhaps an employer comes to us with a general labor or manufacturing position. Well, I have a lot of people who have a background in engineering and computer science, [as well as] finance and accounting. We have many people who are very skilled in other areas of their organization that they haven’t even thought to entrust to us.

Moving forward together
Educating employers and employees who have no experience with people with disabilities – whom Goff-Hoogerhyde calls “the forgotten population” – is key to breaking down stigmas, myths and barriers. It is also essential to normalize working with people of different abilities, a way of bridging the gap between the number of jobs available in any region and the hard-working people who are eager to fill them.

The effort to build a diverse team of individuals is worthwhile, not only for the economy and the labor market, but also for the company itself. Goff-Hoogerhyde cites a client who was recently promoted to director at Meijer, several who worked at Kohls and another who works in home health care as examples of the kind of employee employers can get when they remember to turn to the “forgotten population” for open jobs.

“Personally, knowing and working with this population for seven years…I can say that they are ready to do their best,” says Goff-Hoogerhyde. “They are hungry for social ties because many of them are isolated. They feel like they’re giving back, they’re getting something out of their work. It’s like a kid who is 16 and gets his first job, you know? It’s the kind of excitement they get…and the fulfillment they get. We should all have that with our work.

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