Overcoming Employment Barriers Facing Underserved Populations: 3 Lessons

June 21, 2018


Lead by example. Be innovative in your thinking around sourcing and hiring.
Know that the best talent may come from unexpected sources and will yield value for your business and the community.

Within the tech sector, unfilled jobs are growing from 500,000 to over one million by 2020. And yet, in cities like Chicago and Milwaukee, joblessness among underserved populations is increasing. 

Underserved populations face barriers that limit their access to in-demand jobs. Nontraditional talent may not have four year degrees, for example. They also may not have access to professional networks that produce word of mouth job referrals or interviews. Some may have been involved in the justice system, leaving blemishes on their backgrounds that exclude them from the very corporate jobs that bring long-term stability. These barriers reinforce an uphill climb - without the first internship or professional work experience, others are more difficult. 

Traditional talent sourcing, such as leveraging professional networks or campus recruiting, often leaves underserved populations out of the running for the most sought after careers. Further, bias in recruitment - from how a job description is worded to the implicit bias of a hiring manager - is prevalent and hard to eradicate, according to the Financial Times. This not only perpetuates the divide, but can impact an organization’s bottom line.

Research shows higher diversity in the workforce correlates with higher performance. According to McKinsey, “companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.”

This is forcing an overhaul of traditional hiring practices, with an emphasis on bias-free sourcing.

First, try blind hiring. Blind hiring is any technique that anonymizes or “blinds” demographic-related information about a candidate from the recruiter or hiring manager that can lead to bias. We all have them – beliefs about what we think a good candidate is supposed to look like. The Rockefeller Foundation, as part of their recruitment and hiring practices, uses tech-enabled assessments that show how typically overlooked candidates are performing at or above their existing employee. Similarly, i.c.stars uses custom assessments to screen candidates coming into the program, filtering for competencies shown to lead to success in the program and in the technology industry.

Next, consider career pathway programs. Internship programs and other earn and learn pathways, such as apprenticeships, allow individuals who have faced barriers to employment a way to enter into a corporation based on their ability to demonstrate their competencies and skills, as opposed to their credentials and prior work history on their resume doing that for them.

Using project-based learning and full immersion teaching, i.c. stars provides an opportunity for change-driven, future leaders to develop skills in business and technology. To date, the careers of over 400 individuals have gotten a jump start through this program. Sometimes all you need is a chance to show what you can do. 

Finally, employer engagement in the skills acquisition process has proven to be another way of breaking down barriers for nontraditional talent. Data from the U.S. Chamber Foundation highlights i.c.stars and other business-facing intermediaries as effectively incorporating market needs into training programs.

Lead by example. Be innovative in your thinking around sourcing and hiring. Know that the best talent may come from unexpected sources and that it will yield value for both the community and your business.