With job vacancies high, employers are looking for workers they might have overlooked before

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Tight labor markets often lead to a temporary easing of hiring practices, but this time around it’s possible to get more people into the job market permanently, economists and labor experts say. use. A cascade of baby boomers retiring early and workers abandoning low-wage occupations has created a massive need at a time when companies are actively seeking to diversify their ranks. Armed with this mission, along with improved technologies and new remote work capabilities, employers are lowering the barriers that have long left people on the sidelines.

Kareem Berry, 33, had struggled to find a stable job for years before being hired by the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the fall. Berry, who was born and raised in Dorchester, served 32 months in prison for selling drugs. After his discharge in 2018, he took a career preparation course at Strive Boston and bounced into temporary and seasonal jobs. Often, however, when forward-looking employers discovered his file, he said, “a lot of people didn’t call me back.”

Then he heard about an apprenticeship program at Brigham for chronically unemployed Bostonians. Berry started working in materials management, stocking supply rooms with syringes, gloves and gowns, and is now a full-time employee earning well above minimum wage with health insurance and a 401(k) match.

The program began three years ago, but as the hospital seeks to provide more opportunities – and with nearly 10% of its jobs unfilled, double the amount before the pandemic – more workers are being brought in. in this way, said program founder Bernard Jones. Previously, the hospital had a practice of not hiring people with certain offenses on their records, Jones said, even though there was no official policy preventing it. Now all applicants with a non-violent background are considered.

“These are people who have gone through challenges and come out the other side,” said Jones, who hopes to expand the program throughout the Mass General Brigham system. “How to create a sustainable path for people whose access to mobility has been limited or denied by structural problems? »

Nationwide, there are more than 27 million “hidden workers” who are unemployed or underemployed because they are systematically screened out during the hiring process, according to a 2021 study from Harvard Business School. These are people with mental health or developmental issues, physical disabilities or criminal records. They are immigrants, caregivers, veterans. They may come from underprivileged backgrounds or may not have a university degree.

Three-quarters of U.S. employers in the study used some type of automated hiring system that rejects applicants whose resumes raise red flags, leaving “no room for any narratives,” the co-author said. study Joseph Fuller, professor of management at Harvard.

But if employers took a more thoughtful approach to hiring, they’d likely be happy with the results, he said. Companies that have gone “upstream” to find people they might not typically have considered report higher productivity and less turnover.

At a time when corporate awareness of racial inequality is at an all-time high, inviting more people, especially those involved in the criminal justice system, which disproportionately affects people of color, would go a long way to diversifying the workforce. -work, Fuller said. .

Several efforts to remove structural barriers to employment are underway at the state and federal levels. In Massachusetts, $1.4 million in grants are available to organizations helping former incarcerated residents and young people with disabilities find jobs. The US Department of Labor recently launched an initiative to dismantle employment barriers based on race, age, gender, sexual orientation and ability. Congress is also considering legislation that would decriminalize marijuana use and expunge records for marijuana-related offenses — efforts backed by Amazon, which stopped screening job applicants for the drug last summer.

Born and raised in Dorchester, Kareem Berry served 32 months in prison for selling drugs. Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Other parts of American companies are also on board. The Bank Policy Institute, an advocacy group representing the nation’s largest banks, is pushing to ease federal restrictions on people with criminal records working in banks. The Second Chance Business Coalition, made up of major corporations such as Walmart and AT&T, promotes expanded opportunities for people with criminal histories.

Kelly Services, a national recruiting agency that works with 165 New England employers, launched the [email protected] initiative in the fall to improve access for job seekers, including people with autism or without a degree. university. Ahead of the program’s launch, Kelly placed 645 job seekers with criminal records at a Toyota plant in Kentucky and said the effort reduced monthly turnover to an all-time high and increased diversity. by 8%.

“Due to the talent shortage, clients are ready to review their hiring policies,” said Kelly Managing Director Peter Quigley.

The Hampden County Sheriff’s Department in Ludlow, which has a longstanding job training program for inmates, said the number of employers requesting staffing assistance has tripled from before the pandemic.

People with disabilities are also attracting more interest from employers. At the end of 2021, about 13% more people with disabilities were employed compared to February 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Restaurants, retailers, hospitals and nonprofits are reaching out like never before to find job candidates through UMass Boston’s Institute for Community Inclusion, said Jill Eastman, coordinator of the employment program at the institute promoting the inclusion of people with disabilities.

The Science Museum, for example, recently inquired about training staff to hire and work alongside people with mental health issues, she said. And given all the technological advancements that are making jobs more accessible, like text-to-speech programs that bypass the need to type, these changes could be long-lasting.

The increased ability to work remotely is also making a difference. Katie Condo, who has a bachelor’s degree in English and is pursuing a master’s degree in social work, just landed her first job in October at the age of 32. Condo, who works from her family’s home in Hull, estimates she has applied for more than 2,000 jobs over the years, but when employers find out she has cerebral palsy and is using a electric wheelchair, she says, “you can hear them tensing up.”

Condo was hired by You’re With Us!, a North Andover non-profit organization that promotes social inclusion for people with developmental disabilities. Seeking to expand the program, General Manager Michael Plansky asked staff members to step up their networking efforts, which is how they found Condo. It also plans to help employees pay for certification and college degrees. “How do you make it easier for people to say yes?” he said.

People without stable housing also often have difficulty finding a job. And in the fall, when many employers were short of workers, Boston nonprofit Breaktime decided to expand its mission to connect the two. Now, in addition to placing homeless young adults into three-month jobs at nonprofits, Breaktime has partnered with a dozen small businesses.

Michael Aparicio, founder of Boston-based small business consulting firm Revby, which just recruited a tech-savvy Breaktime worker, said the partnership was a win-win. His company supports an important social initiative and obtains in exchange a crucial increase in its workforce.

In this hyper-competitive job market, tapping into a talent pool not found on traditional recruiting platforms is essential, Aparicio said: “We are now in a place where we need to have alternatives to Indeed and LinkedIn. .”


Katie Johnston can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.


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