As we navigate the economic and labor-market fallout from Covid-19, staffing companies and their clients are struggling with an ever-widening talent gap. We need to have the right skillsets to rebuild and accelerate businesses, but qualified people who want to work are hard to find. At the same time, far too many people in America — particularly undeserved and vulnerable populations — face unjust barriers that wrongly disqualify them from employment. These barriers rob them of opportunity and upward mobility every day, and they prevent employers from tapping into a diverse and talented group.
I lead a staffing company that connects more than 440,000 people with work annually and am deeply concerned about the barriers many people face in accessing employment.
These barriers include those facing the one in three adults in America who have a criminal record of some kind. That’s a third of our potential workforce that may be disqualified from employment — sometimes automatically during the online application processes by an algorithm before a human ever hears their story or evaluates their situation and qualifications. Yet, research shows this population is often among the most productive and most loyal when given a second chance.
The cards are also stacked against people who either can’t afford or don’t have a four-year degree — based on an outdated “B.A. or bust” mentality at a time when workforce certificates, industry certifications and other high-quality credentials are increasingly valued in our labor market. Meanwhile, 68% of employers say workers without four-year college degrees were just as — and in many cases more — productive than employees with bachelor’s degrees.
And the list goes on. Maybe it’s time to stop letting outdated policies and redlining get in the way of talented people connecting with meaningful work. It’s time to rethink ingrained notions of risk that have become onerous barriers in our hiring processes. It’s time to ask ourselves — the corporate gatekeepers — to rethink the rules we’ve been defending for decades, and I say this as someone who practiced law for 25 years myself.
Should the lack of a college degree prevent a veteran from bringing valuable military experience and skills to bear in a management role? If a brilliant 45-year-old scientist has one minor marijuana possession charge from age 20, should that stand in the way of assigning them to help develop a Covid vaccine? I don’t think so. Sound risky? At Kelly, we think the risks of excluding these people from the labor pool are even higher. That’s why we recently launched Equity@Work, an effort focused on knocking down these unjust — and rarely challenged — barriers so that we can help provide new pathways to meaningful work for more people.
In partnership with our chief human resources officer and general counsel, we’re changing our own hiring practices and encouraging others to do the same. And we’d love for you to join us. We’ve removed salary and criminal history from employment applications and are eliminating bias in job-posting language. We will continue to do comprehensive screening and background checks. But we are opposed to the blanket bans far too many companies use, and we are committed to finding a more equitable and accessible path.
We’re educating clients about the issues and going to bat for people who are a great fit for opportunities and may have taken a less “traditional” path to get there. People like our employee, David, whose DWI record was preventing him from moving up the career ladder, despite his strong performance and on-the-job experience. David’s manager kept pushing him to apply for new opportunities, challenging our longstanding policies and advocating for a new way until he was able to be hired for a management role. Now he oversees a team of 750 and makes valuable contributions to our organization and clients every day.
I challenge you to stand up for the Davids — to advocate within your organization and rethink outdated policies and procedures that hold talented people back. Working together, we can connect more people with work that enriches their lives and makes for a more productive and inclusive society overall. I can’t think of a better way to start 2021.