With many countries experiencing labor shortages, recruiters face a more demanding task than ever — finding the right people, and enough of them, to fill all the empty job openings. Many hiring managers report being unable to find people willing to work. Sometimes, however, the most qualified applicants fly under the radar, and recruiters must change their approach to find them. Could hidden workers be the key to solving the labor crisis?

Who Are Hidden Workers?

Hidden workers are people whom hiring managers often overlook. They rarely fit the typical profile of an ideal candidate, and all of them have at least one barrier to entry into a job. This group of people includes:

  • Immigrants and refugees: These workers may be certified to work in their home country, but financial or language barriers prevent them from getting jobs once they relocate. Additionally, some certifications and degrees do not transfer from one country to another.
  • Caregivers: Many people leave the workforce because they must care for children or older adults. Women make up the majority of this category.
  • Applicants without degrees: Many qualified people lack a formal education.
  • People with health problems: Preconceived notions about physical and mental disabilities often cause recruiters to overlook this cohort. Additionally, many people with health issues avoid applying to jobs that seem too demanding or do not provide health insurance.
  • Formerly incarcerated people: People with a criminal record may struggle to even get an interview.
  • Older adults: Although many countries have age discrimination laws in place, others allow recruiters to deny applicants a job based on their age. Even in nations with strong legal protections, hiring managers may still discriminate against older adults.

Many hidden workers are distressed and discouraged about not having a job, and they may apply for numerous positions in an increasingly desperate attempt to find work.

How to Uncover Hidden Workers

Talent acquisition specialists can use several strategies to find and hire hidden workers:

Use More Flexible Recruitment Systems

Recruiting Management or Marketing Systems (RMS) and Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are valuable tools for HR departments that receive hundreds or even thousands of applications for an opening. However, they can also have rigid parameters.

Some RMS and ATS software automatically excludes applicants without college degrees or several years of experience. In one headline-making example, an Amazon resume screening tool even penalized applications with the word “women” on them, lowering the scores of candidates who had attended a women’s college or majored in women’s studies. Talent acquisition professionals must work to eliminate bias in AI-based hiring tools.

Advertise Nontraditional Schedules and Employment Types

For a single parent or person with disabilities, a 40-hour work week in the office might be out of reach. A military spouse may be unable to commit to a permanent role because of frequent relocation.

If a position is not a traditional nine-to-five, in-person role, recruiters should emphasize that in the job posting. Flexible hours, contractor roles, seasonal jobs and remote work can all attract hidden workers. There are around 16 million contract and temporary employees in the U.S. workforce, and they play a critical role in the economy while providing valuable services. Employers can also benefit from nontraditional workers in the form of tax breaks and flexible scheduling.

GEM Recruiting AI

Undergo Training

Hiring managers may need more training in how to search for and evaluate nontraditional applicants. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training can also broaden recruiters’ worldviews, reducing unconscious bias against hidden workers who do not fit the stereotype of a traditional employee.

Close the Skills Gap

Earning a college degree is prohibitively expensive for many people. Gaining relevant experience can also be challenging because many entry-level jobs require a degree, and even internships can be out of reach if they do not offer compensation. Simultaneously, many industries are changing rapidly due to technological advancements.

The result is that hidden workers often lack the requested skills to apply for open positions. HR departments should reconsider which qualifications are truly necessary for a job and conduct thorough interviews of applicants who appear unqualified on paper. Additionally, providing on-the-job training can widen the pool of potential candidates.

The Benefits of Hiring Hidden Workers

According to a Harvard Business School report, companies that purposely hire hidden workers are 36% less likely to experience skill shortages compared to businesses that do not hire from this cohort. During labor shortages, companies that target hidden workers may be at an advantage in this regard. Hiring hidden workers can also bring much-needed diversity and new ideas into a workplace.

Employees who were once hidden workers are often more productive than their peers. They also tend to score higher on engagement, attendance, innovation and quality of work metrics, all while boasting a better work ethic and attitude.

An Underutilized Resource

Recruiters should shift away from hiring hidden workers only to fill quotas or meet affirmative action requirements. Instead, they should view this underappreciated cohort as a valuable resource for finding new talent. Hidden workers are eager and productive and bring fresh perspectives to the team. Importantly, they are also numerous — recruiters just need to know where to look.

Devin Partida

Devin Partida is a business technology and talent recruitment writer. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of ReHack.com.