Rogue Valley: Focus on Workforce with Disabilities

by Ainoura Oussenbec

March 6, 2017

The current labor market conditions in the Rogue Valley are characterized by significant workforce shortages. According to OED’s 2016 Job Vacancy report, 71 percent of the local respondents reported difficulties with finding job applicants, much higher than the 64 percent statewide. Usually an employers’ market, thanks to being such a desirable place to live, the Rogue Valley has been in growth mode for several years. Employers report many more jobs would have been added to payrolls, only if there had been enough talent. Slower in-migration and an aging population are some of the factors responsible for the present shortages.

Perhaps, now is the time for the local employers to cast a much wider net for their potential applicant pool. Instead of looking only for those “ideal” candidates who perfectly fit the job descriptions, maybe recruiters can, in addition, consider local talent that can be developed with time. Young job seekers without experience, older workers lacking in social media skills, or workers with disabilities were easily overlooked during the difficult economic times. These candidates may now be an employer’s best investment.
According to Census data from the American Community Survey 2015, both Jackson and Josephine counties (red and blue bars in the graph) have higher percentages of people with disabilities, in every category, compared with Oregon and the nation.

To address the higher need, several organizations in the Rogue Valley work with people with disabilities, for instance, ASPIRE and Living Opportunities. These organizations offer “supported employment” services, which means their staff can oversee, coach and, in essence, “supervise” the clients hired out in the community.

The job coaches from these support organizations will make sure the selected workers will show up at work and contribute. This model can save time and money for the businesses willing to open up certain jobs to the less “traditional” workforce. With careful planning and an open mind, there can be win-win solutions for all concerned.

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