Can non-traditional workers help fill your open jobs?

The arrival of spring and summer 2021 brought not only a return to semi-normalcy but also a huge number of job openings, which reached a record high of 9.3 million at the end of April. That included 1.5 million open jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector and 965,000 open retail jobs.

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Low-income fields, such as restaurants, janitorial, hotels, manufacturing  and distribution have been hit the hardest, according to Rob Wilson, president of EmploycoUSA, a Chicago-based HR outsourcing firm. However, he’s even seeing fields like HR and accounting suffering from a lack of workers.

“It’s a very challenging time for companies on the recruiting front,” he says. “Even at job fairs, only a handful of applicants are showing up.”

Desperate to fill those jobs and recover revenue lost during the pandemic, employers have been increasingly turning to non-traditional workers, including teens, retirees and ex-convicts. In May, the unemployment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds dropped to 9.6 percent, its lowest level since 1953 and down from nearly 30 percent in May 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, 79 percent of U.S. workers say they would feel comfortable working for an employer if some of their co-workers had a nonviolent criminal record, according to an April 2021 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management and the SHRM Foundation.
Also see: How companies are putting ex-offenders back to work

Nearly 700,000 people are released from prison each year, according to Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., president and CEO of SHRM. Giving them a chance at employment provides employers with a vast talent pool and helps organizations achieve more diversity because a disproportionate number of incarcerated Americans are people of color, says Taylor.

“Ban the Box” regulations, such as the one that recently went into effect in New York City, will make it easier for the 70 million Americans with a criminal record to get their foot in the door, says Wilson. Such laws require employers to consider qualifications first when considering a person’s eligibility for employment, delaying inquiries about an applicant’s criminal record until later in the process.

The Fair Chance Act, which takes effect Dec. 20, 2021, will prohibit federal contractors from asking applicants about any criminal convictions before extending a conditional offer of employment. Since non-traditional employees are often stepping into jobs for which they may not have all the requisite requirements, Wilson recommends employers create a solid onboarding and training program. This will help these individuals perform more effectively on the job as well increasing their chances of staying long term.

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Julie Cook Ramirez
Julie Cook Ramirez is a Rockford, Ill.-based journalist and copywriter covering all aspects of human resources. She can be reached at [email protected].