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Tips for Addressing Employer Concerns

Below are eight strategies to help workforce development professionals effectively market customers in recovery to employers. It is important to note that workforce development personnel must never disclose a customer’s history of alcohol or drug treatment. However, in some instances candidates may voluntarily share this information. In this situation, these strategies may help alleviate employer concerns. Otherwise, any discussions with employers about the value of employing workers in recovery must be limited to the general backgrounds of program customers, rather than about individual job seekers.

Most of these strategies can be used to help highlight the benefits of hiring any customers to employers, and some are strategies workforce development professionals use every day. Others specifically address how to handle common fears and misperceptions employers may have about people in recovery.

Understand the realities of the employers’ labor market

Employers always are in need of workers who are able and willing to do a job well. Even during times of economic uncertainty, employers may need to fill short- and long-term positions. Furthermore, it is expensive and time consuming to advertise, recruit, interview and train qualified employees, and these costs cannot be recovered if they do not result in a successful placement. Replacing ineffective employees is also expensive, making employee retention one of employers’ top priorities across a range of industries. Regardless of the type of population served, understanding the realities of potential employers’ labor markets puts the workforce development professional in a better position to explain why using his or her program’s services to recruit employees makes good business sense.

Speak the same language as employers

Workforce development professionals should learn about an employer’s workforce needs by researching the local employment market. At a minimum, research should include reading through the classified ads to confirm what qualifications employers are looking for in applicants. Also, when describing how program services can help employers, terms that employers relate to and recognize should be used.

Describe the benefits of using program services

Employers will only be interested in working with workforce development programs if it can be demonstrated that hiring program participants reduces the time and costs of recruiting and training. It should be explained that the array of services available to program participants are designed to enable employers to readily and inexpensively fill positions, and that hiring program participants can actually prove better than using standard hiring practices—because each candidate’s skills are assessed and he or she is pre-screened and matched to an employer’s specific needs before being referred. It should also be mentioned that employers using government-funded workforce development placement activities may be able to save on costs for application pre-screening or the follow-up case management that helps ensure good placements.

Celebrate the power of recovery by describing people in recovery in positive terms

As appropriate, workforce development professionals should talk to employers about the positive characteristics that people in recovery generally have. They should focus on the facts—customers in recovery have the skills employers want and they are ready to work and motivated to succeed. Many of these individuals have overcome significant challenges in achieving recovery, an accomplishment that contributes to a determination to succeed in other areas of their life, including employment. Also, integrating employer testimonials in discussions with employers, who are likely to be influenced by positive experiences of other employers, should be considered.

Set clear limits on how much personal information is shared with employers

Workforce development professionals should explain that they are not at liberty to tell employers about specific individuals and their history of drug and alcohol abuse, but will work with these individuals to make decisions about self-disclosing. It can be clarified that many people in recovery find it helpful to share their recovery process with employers, particularly if assured that it will not be used against them and if employers are supportive.

Be prepared to address employer concerns when they arise

Employers may be leery of individuals with a history of drug and alcohol abuse. Thus, it is probably wise for workforce development professionals to anticipate and be prepared to dispel the myths and anxieties employers might have about hiring people in recovery, particularly if a program’s target population is generally considered to be at risk for drug and alcohol abuse. To learn more about common employer concerns and strategies for responding to them if and when they arise, misconceptions vs. realities regarding people in recovery can be reviewed. Also, it should be kept in mind that despite best efforts to educate them to the contrary, some employers may remain unconvinced about the value of hiring people in recovery, and there may be nothing that anyone can say to change their minds. In this case, the workforce development professional should consider whether the employer is likely to provide a healthy workplace in which people in recovery can succeed.

Explain how program participants receive support and help

Workforce development professionals should talk to employers about the transitional services the program provides to customers who may require additional support (such as mental health and substance abuse counseling and treatment referrals). They should tell employers about the case management services provided, such as proactive attention designed to prevent problems before they occur, as well as staff and resources available to help if they do. Employers should be comforted to know that if an alcohol or drug problem exists, it is under control, and it if re-occurs, support systems are in place to help the individual get back on track. Also, employers should be reminded about the specific services offered to help these individuals if they experience problems in the workplace—such as training in communication/conflict resolution, anger management and stress and time management. It should be emphasized that these individuals have support before, during and after the job placement process.

Educate employers about additional support services

It might also be helpful to discuss other types of services that may be available, such as the Federal Bonding Program. Thousands of employers have taken advantage of this program, which is a business insurance policy that protects employers against business losses due to employee actions, such as theft. Also beneficial to mention are other employer-sponsored programs that support people in recovery, such as drug-free workplace programs that include Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), which actually benefit an employer’s entire staff and result in increased safety and productivity company-wide. Workforce development professionals should assure employers that the same workplace support services that foster success for people in recovery foster success for all employees and that sound workplace practices require little or no modification to provide a good environment for people in recovery. There are a number of steps employers can take to ensure their workplace is recovery friendly.

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