Employers adhering to the same old recruitment tactics are failing to capitalise on the untapped talent of people with disabilities, writes PhD scholar Catherine Kelly of the Department of Applied Social Sciences

The latest figures from ManpowerGroup Employment Outlook Survey highlights that 81% of Irish employers are currently struggling to recruit employees. This survey reveals that there is currently a massive talent shortage for recruiters in Ireland with unprecedented increases in salary being offered to attract the right candidates.

But employers that continue to invest in the same old recruitment tactics fail to capitalise on the biggest source of untapped talent, that of people with disabilities. Indeed, a report from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) highlights that a mere 36% of disabled people of working age are actually employed in Ireland. This figure differs considerably in the percentages in employment by disability types: people who reported having 'deafness or a serious hearing impairment' are on the higher end of the employment scale at 45.7%, with people with an intellectual disability at the bottom end of the employment ladder at only 14.75%.

Ireland has a dismal employment track record for hiring disabled people of working age, having the fourth lowest employment rates in comparison with other EU countries. These statistics are stark given that people with disabilities seek employment at more or less the same rate as the non-disabled workforce.

The current employment crisis in Ireland could act as a catalyst for change with progressive and forward-thinking employers recognising the potential in the recruitment and retention of disabled people, as a stabilising factor in the sustainability of many businesses. The lack of information on the benefits of hiring people with disabilities is surprising at a time when equality, diversity and inclusion are so high on the corporate, civil, and public service agenda. Indeed, there are many benefits to businesses of hiring people with disabilities.

Turnover and retention

Employers know that employee turnover is costly and can also negatively impact an organisation's productivity, profitability, sustainability and competitiveness. Interestingly, studies show that people with disabilities tend to seek stable and reliable work when job seeking, and therefore are more likely to have higher rates of job retention.

Costly investment in implementing proactive human resource strategies to increase employee satisfaction to retain and motive workforces are widescale across organisations, with varying levels of outcomes. In contrast a broad body of research exists which suggests that people with disabilities intrinsically experience higher job satisfaction levels that non-disabled people, which generally leads to lower employee turnover and higher return on an employer’s investments in terms of training and development. In addition, employees with disabilities are reported to work harder, be more productive, and have lower levels of absenteeism.

Inclusive work environment

Employers are increasingly recognising the value of promoting and delivering equitable, diverse and inclusive work cultures as an essential aspect of good people management. While this practice is recognised, people with experience of disability are often absent from these important conversations.

Promoting an inclusive work environment for people with disabilities doesn’t stop at recruitment and companies that invest in developing internal pathways to leadership can improve the company’s top-down culture. Harnessing the talent of disabled people at all levels within the workforce ensures that the right people are driving and leading equity, diversity, and inclusion discussions.

Inclusion can also have a significant impact on how employees feel about their workplace. A study by Deloitte highlights that employees who worked in companies with high levels of inclusion and diversity were 80% more likely to equate this with working for high-performing organisations.

Indeed, global companies such as Microsoft, have recognised that having a diverse workforce that includes people with disabilities is paramount to their mission, citing benefits such as helping to decrease current staffing gaps and powering innovation as key outcomes.


While paid work is unequivocally an important source of income, it is not considered the major motivational driver for why people with disabilities continue working. In fact, access to social networks, being able to contribute to society and feeling part of a team are far more valuable. Research also indicates that the motivational levels of employees with disabilities are significantly higher-than-average. High levels of motivation result in better customer services, increased loyalty to the employer and higher performance.

Market expansion

According to the 2016 Census, 13.5% of people living in Ireland have a disability. This is a significantly large, often untapped consumer market. One of the best ways for companies interested in market expansion to understand and access this market segment is often through genuine representation of people with disabilities in the workplace. This can be advantageous as it can improve the perception of the company from the consumer point of view. Employing people with disabilities communicates a strong sense of social responsibility, demonstrating that the company is person orientated and interested in broader social justice issues that impact our local communities and the people that live in them.

This piece originally appeared on RTÉ Brainstorm