Helping Employers Hire: Value-Added Employment Services
by Richard Luecking
Did you ever notice that most successful businesses have a knack for going that extra mile for their customers? It could be Nordstroms helping a customer to the car, Marriott Hotels providing a complimentary meal, or the car dealership washing your car when it is in for repair. The result of these gestures is almost always return customers because they appreciate the extra value they receive from the experience. And they tell many of their friends, spreading the word about the business. This same principle applies to the most successful employment service organizations who have adopted strategies of such businesses by finding ways to add value to their encounters with their employer customers. Thus, finding their own success in helping job seekers achieve employment outcomes.
We know that there have traditionally been distinct differences in how employment service processionals and employers see things. For example, one study (Fabian, Luecking & Tilson, 1995) found that job development personnel tended to attribute successful job placements to open, flexible, risk-taking employers. They typically were looking for employers who were aware of, and understood the needs of, people with disabilities. By contrast, employers in the same study credited successful job placements to employment professionals who knew and responded to their needs. Contrary to the perceptions of employment specialists, employers were looking for quality and competent service. In other words, employers were less interested in altruistic appeals than in assurances that they will receive service that meets the needs of their enterprise. One way for employment service agencies to meet the needs of employers and to add value to the exchange is by helping them make sound hiring decisions through alternative hiring methods. Consider the following case study.
Value-added service leads to employment
Michael is a young adult who recently exited his public school special education program and who is now receiving services from a local employment service program. He has a longstanding interest in arts and crafts and is very good at creating drawings and three-dimensional arrangements. A franchise arts and crafts store was located within easy commuting distance from his home, and he expressed an interest in working there. His employment specialist learned of a job opening for a clerk at the store, which was having problems finding good employees in a tight labor market. Knowing that Michael would have difficulty with the traditional oral job interview due to a communication disability, she helped the store manager set up a series of common tasks so that Michael could perform them as part of a working interview. When the employer saw that Michael could perform the main tasks, he hired him.
The employer, by making this relatively simple accommodation in the hiring process, gained some important expertise that the franchise was later to use in its hiring procedures. In fact, he asked the employment specialist to help the store standardize the working interview procedure as part of its recruitment and hiring system. In a region where there are many individuals for whom English is a second language, substituting sample task performance for oral interviews became an effective method for screening applicants. This benefited the franchise in significant ways, and in fact the employment specialist was frequently consulted concerning human resource procedures. Her willingness to help and her expertise became a boon to the employer, who later hired other job seekers represented by the agency and recommended its services to other store managers. All of this occurred over the course of several months, but resulted in a significant payoff in terms of a long term relationship with an employer who became a repeat, satisfied customer. And of course, job seekers with disabilities achieved meaningful employment.
Making It Happen
In order for the employment specialist to help Michael get the job, and in order to identify ways in which her expertise could indeed add value to the employer's operation, she drew upon specific knowledge and skills common to people in the employment service field. First, she had to know the job seeker well, including Michael's interests and his needs for specific accommodations. Second, she had to get to know the employer's operation and job tasks. She made at least three trips to visit the store to talk to the manager and observe the stock clerk's job. Instead of asking the manager if he would consider hiring a person with a disability, she took the time to inquire as to his needs and how they accomplished the work in the store. Third, she needed to have the ability to analyze how the jobs got done so she could devise ways in which Michael could be interviewed. Fourth, she needed to display the diplomacy and rapport necessary to recommend alternatives to the store manager. And finally, she needed to have the willingness to put in the extra time to help the employer, after Michael was hired, to devise the alternative interviewing strategy that was eventually adopted for other applicants. Even though this might be seen by some as outside of her usual job responsibilities, she saw it as a way to Ago the extra mile for a valued customer.
Components of the Working Interview
Although variability will occur based on employer circumstances and job seeker need for accommodation, the working interview that Michael's employment specialist helped devise has several basic components:
Identify several critical tasks of the job, much the same way that task analysis is done, and organize them to be presented in a logical sequence to the applicant.
Arrange for a convenient time for the interview to take place that will not disrupt the normal operation of the employer.
Prompt the applicant through the tasks, one by one. Again this is done in much the same way that any new task might be presented in a training situation, except that the process is abbreviated - typically with fewer tasks and in a shorter time frame.
Allow the applicant several chances to perform the task if he does not get it right the first time. Demonstration that a person can be taught to master the task is just as important to persuading the employer to hire as is the demonstration of current mastery.
Finish by summarizing to the employer the overall performance of the applicant and reiterate those tasks for which instruction will result in eventual mastery.
Service Competence and Customer Retention
For employment specialists and employment programs, relationships with employers boil down to one basic question: how will what we do benefit the employer's enterprise? In the example above, not only was the employer assisted in making a sound hiring decision, he received additional value from the employment specialist - assistance in devising an effective applicant screening process. The agency is perceived as a competent source of human resources consultation, rather than merely a feel good human services program. It is also not coincidental that the hired job seekers disability is minimized in the eyes of the employer.
There are several characteristics that are emblematic of a competent employment service organization illustrated in the working interview example:
Quest for Greater Mutual Benefit. While, on the surface, it may seem that a satisfactory job match benefits the employer as much as the employee, on closer examination it can mean much more than that. Michael's job is good for him and the employer. But the employer is getting far more out of the relationship - an improved ability to screen additional applicants. And the agency has connections to additional stores in the franchise for future job seeker referral.An old marketing maxim states that it is more effective to find out what customers need and want and then try to match it with what you have, than it is to get them to buy what you are selling. By helping the store manager hire for a position hard to fill in a tight labor market, by helping the store meet a larger human resources need through a revised interviewing process, and by providing value-added service, Michael's employment specialist used the skills she has to meet the store's needs. She did not have to sell disability.
Being in it for the Long Haul. In the delivery of supported employment services the assumption is that follow-up to the employee and the employer occurs as a matter of course. However, in Michael's example the follow up included the employment specialist making herself available for additional assistance to the employer over time. Long-term, value-added relationships provide excellent means of marketing employment services as word travels to other employers.
Service Competence. This means making a worthwhile contribution to and meeting the specific needs of employers through offering expertise in job matching, job accommodation, employer consultation or enhancing employee performance. Michael's employment specialist helped make the job match, orchestrated an accommodation for Michael's communication style - the working interview - that made it easier for the employer to make the hiring decision, and applied her expertise to a larger concern of the employer - how to screen applicants with limited English who apply at the store.
Customer Service Orientation. Regarding employers as customers requires a shift in orientation that goes beyond merely providing a good employee. It entails adding value to the service encounter that meets the employers' needs. A satisfied customer's comments to others about the service, as when Michael's store manager recommended the employment service agency to other managers, generate more customers and make future employer contacts easier.
Business Friendly Processes. Michael's store manager ultimately found himself the beneficiary of the employment service. He was assisted in hiring, as opposed to being the passive recipient of a placement service. This is a subtle, yet important, distinction because, from the employer's view the encounter with the employment specialist was easy, helpful and clearly conducted to meet his business's hiring needs.
Fabian, E., Luecking, R., & Tilson, G. (1995). Employer and rehabilitation personnel perspectives on hiring persons with disabilities: Implications for job development. Journal of Rehabilitation, 61, 42-49.
Richard Luecking is President of TransCen, Inc., an organization specializing in human resource issues that affect all aspects of disability in the workplace. TransCen is a partner in the National Supported Employment Consortium.