Excerpted from The SHRM Blog By Julie Hocker

Chances are, in your workplace today, there are empty seats you wish were filled with qualified and motivated employees. You are not alone.

Today in America there are more than seven million unfilled jobs. And there are also more than ten million Americans with disabilities who are ready, willing, and able to fill those jobs. It is not only the right time to tap into this talent pool, it is also a golden opportunity. Businesses that employ and support workers with disabilities average 28 percent higher revenue and 30 percent higher profit margins than peer businesses that do not.

There may be a logical reason for these results. People with disabilities, perhaps more than anyone, understand how to meet challenges head-on and solve tough problems. It is even been suggested that the ROI on disability hiring will be similar to what businesses experienced with past inclusion efforts, such as those that brought women into the front offices and boardrooms.

So, how can we create hiring models that match American businesses to qualified workers with disabilities? I believe the answer lies inside our nation’s vibrant and innovative businesses and that this is the year we can build momentum. So, we are putting out a challenge to all American businesses – from Main Street to Wall Street – to not just join us, but to compete and win a national prize.

Here is how it works. The Administration for Community Living (ACL) has put up $380,000 in prize money for winning ideas from American businesses. The ideas take the form of proposals that explain how the business will establish a talent pipeline for workers with disabilities. We call this effort the Inclusive Talent Pipeline for American Businesses challenge. Details can be found at acl.gov/challenge.

We want to see – and recognize – true and disruptive innovation in talent pipelines across America. Businesses will benefit through better performance and people with disabilities will discover access to meaningful, engaging careers. Together, we will benefit from a stronger national engine: a more diverse workforce.

Submitting a proposal is easy. We are confident that every successful business has the creativity to outline a plan to effectively establish a talent pipeline for workers with disabilities. A key judging criterion for this challenge will be the extent to which each proposal is inclusive of people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

We will award cash prizes to up to five winning proposals, and a grand prize of $100,000. All participating businesses will receive feedback on their proposals and permission to use the “Administration for Community Living Inclusive Talent Pipeline Partner” logo.

There is a population ready, willing, and able to fill the millions of jobs that are available today. I hope you will use this opportunity to open your doors wider to Americans with disabilities by visiting the challenge website. If you have questions, we will respond promptly. We want to motivate you to improve your talent pipeline and are happy to reward those efforts.

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