Long term unemployment remains one of the most troubling legacies of the Great Recession.  While the numbers have been declining in recent months, significant, persistent, and invisible barriers prevent people who have been unemployed for long periods from being considered by employers for open positions.   Month after month the Bureau of Labor Statistics continues to report that nearly 3 million people have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more—and these are just the people still looking for work.   

These aren’t just numbers; these are people – families who are worried about putting food on the table and gas in their cars.  People like Keri P, a seasoned digital marketing professional who lost her job in October of 2012 when her employer eliminated her entire team.  Keri spent eight months looking for a job before finding a position at Deloitte.   

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Recently, National Economic Council Director Jeff Zients, Labor Secretary Thomas PerezThomas Edward PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE, and senior human resource leaders from leading organizations gathered in Washington to address a difficult question: is there an ‘unconscious bias’ against capable, skilled, and motivated people who happen to suffer lengthy employment gaps?  Are they seen as lacking the relevant skills and expertise to be successful, due to the length of time they did not have a job?  

Regrettably, this preconception bias does exist in some places – and it’s time to eliminate it.  There are now two unemployed job seekers for every job opening – and many of those looking for work fall into the long-term unemployed category. While there needs to be alignment between job seeker skills and employer needs to create a match, a significant portion of the population that is eligible and talented enough to fill those roles is currently being overlooked – not getting any consideration.  As a result, America is not taking full advantage of the strength of its workforce. Moreover, with the rising cost of hiring, this is a group that employers simply cannot afford to ignore.  

That’s why, in January 2014, my organization, Deloitte, joined more than 300 companies – including 20 members of the Fortune 50 – in signing the White House’s Best Practices for Recruiting and Hiring the Long-Term Unemployed. We did this for two reasons – for the health of our own organization’s hiring practices, and because we believe this is a broader challenge for the American economy and we want to be part of the solution.  

At Deloitte, we are constantly recruiting and hiring. Last year alone we hired 18,000 people.  We have seen firsthand how powerful it can be to hire those who have been unemployed for long periods. The personal impact on the employee is significant – both for them and their family – but we benefit as well.  When you hire someone who has been out of work for a significant length of time, you sometimes find that their gratitude and relief at having a job results in a truly passionate, committed employee.  

Together with the Rockefeller Foundation, we developed handbooks for employers and job-seekers that we hope will be the first step in eliminating unfounded assumptions about those suffering lengthy unemployment.  For those looking for a job, these handbooks provide targeted resources like checklists and interactive exercises; for employers, strategies to harness, rein in, and overcome an unconscious bias that shortchanges their organizational success. 

The economy of today – and of the future – relies on a skilled, competitive workforce to develop opportunities, advancements, and new systems of thinking.  That means focusing more, not less, on blending a diversity of experiences, assets, and abilities – as well as gender, race, age – and yes, employment history.  While some of the bias that exists in hiring may be unconscious, every organization must take a hard look at its hiring practices to ensure they’re not missing opportunities to find the talent they need to thrive.

Moffatt is CEO and chairman of Deloitte Consulting.