New Attitude

Often overlooked and undervalued, these workers could be the answer to your labor woes.
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the July 1998 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

You've heard it before: Small businesses, especially high-tech firms seeking tech-savvy workers, are in dire straights when it comes to finding qualified employees. But take a closer look. "We have as many people in the world as we've always had," says Terry Moskus of Olsten Staffing Services in Melville, New York. "It's just a matter of how creative you are at finding [workers]."

So who are these potential workers? They are temporary workers, people with disabilities, ex-offenders, mature workers and discouraged workers (those who haven't sought work in at least four weeks). Here are a few facts about these folks:

  • Seventy-four percent of all temporary workers seek temporary work as a way to get a full-time job.
  • Sixty-eight percent of the 32.4 million Americans ages 15 to 64 with a disability are unemployed; 79 percent of them want work.
  • An estimated 2.36 million of the nation's ex-offenders are on parole or probation. A significant portion can't find employment.
  • Some 450,000 individuals age 55 and older are unemployed.
  • Some 343,000 discouraged workers want jobs: Of that, nearly 42 percent are women, and approximately one-third are ages 16 to 24.

Dipping into these labor pools requires thinking on another level, as Phil Kosak discovered. For the first three years he operated Carolina Fine Snacks, a Greensboro, North Carolina, nutritional snack company, he struggled to find reliable employees. "Our efficiency was 60 percent of capacity; the turnover rate was 80 percent every six months. Absenteeism was 20 percent, and tardiness was 15 percent to 20 percent," says Kosak.

Things changed when Kosak attended a job fair for people with disabilities. Kosak was so impressed with what he encountered, he hired someone that day; since 1985, more than half his staff has been people with disabilities. "Initially, I had the same stereotypical concerns most employers have. [With my first disabled employee,] I focused on what he couldn't do, not what he could," Kosak admits. "But that changed quickly because of his enthusiasm." Meanwhile, production has increased to 100 percent, tardiness and absenteeism are negligible, and morale has increased.

Ex-offenders are also a good source of potential employees. They range from high-risk youth referred for alternative sentencing to recovering drug addicts to those who exit jail without a work history, says Sandi Franklin, a psychologist and consultant to New York City-based Fortune Society, which helps ex-offenders turn their lives around. Contrary to popular belief, Franklin says, ex-offenders will not always be offenders; they are also not lazy or unreliable. "They're more motivated than the average new worker," says Franklin, "because they want to prove they can reintegrate into society."

Hiring mature workers can be beneficial as well. According to Green Thumb Inc., an Arlington, Virginia, federally funded employment training program for rural people ages 55 and over, hiring such individuals will get you knowledgeable, experienced workers.

The hardest group to find is discouraged workers. "They are probably not reading newspapers, and they're usually not well-connected," says Shulamit Kahn, an associate management professor at Boston University. They might also be less skilled, less educated or have constraints such as lack of child care or transportation.

These workers might not seem like the best potential employees, but they often avoid the labor market simply because they lack training or believe no work is available for them. Once you find a discouraged- worker candidate, be prepared to offer assistance, such as providing referrals to agencies that can help with child care. To find these workers, talk to your own employees, then branch out to churches and community centers.

Dipping into these alternative labor pools won't be as simple as running an ad and sorting through pristine resumes, but employers who shelve misconceptions and think creatively will be the most successful.

Contact Sources

Carolina Fine Snacks, 3718 Alliance Dr., Greensboro, NC 27407, (336) 852-1900

The Fortune Society, 39 W. 19th St., New York, NY 10011, (212) 206-7070

Green Thumb Inc.,; Taylor Hartman, 7070 Union Park Ctr., #335, Midvale, UT 84047, (800) 761-0001;

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