Entering the workforce can be hard for a number of reasons. Not only is the application and hiring process more complicated than ever before, it can also be exclusive and discriminatory. There are many groups of people who want to work but can’t because they have children, a criminal record, or a disability. Other groups such as refugees and veterans may have additional barriers preventing them from employment. During the Salt Lake Chamber’s Workforce Summit on August 12, 2021, there was a panel discussion on how order to add workers to our workforce, we must remove barriers to ensure everyone has a fair chance.

Removing the Child Care Barrier

Carol Miller is head of employer partnerships at Wonderschool, a platform designed to help connect employers and parents to local child care opportunities. Miller explained that the lack of quality child care restricts many parents from working, especially when the search is so time-consuming.

“At Wonderschool, we will work with a parent one-on-one,” said Miller. “We’ll do the leg work so it’s not taking away from their workday.”

Employers are encouraged to utilize tools such as Wonderschool not only for their employees but also for the tremendous return on investment. Workplaces that offer child care options see a reduction in absenteeism and turnover, and can develop a reputation in their communities as accessible to families.

Removing the Criminal History Barrier

Another barrier that prevents capable workers from employment is criminal history. Jojo Liu, director of the Salt Lake County Criminal Justice Advisory Council, explained that many Utahns are denied work because of decades-old records, even after they have paid their debt to society.

“70 million Americans have a criminal record — one in three adults,” said Liu. “Our program works with individuals who are ready to work, and want to work, but are being held back by old records.”

Liu has helped dozens of people clear old records using expungement, a legal process that clears records for eligible citizens. However, it can be a lengthy process. Liu encouraged employers to use a case-by-case approach to hiring rather than a blanket ban on anyone with any criminal history in order to hire more workers. 

Removing the Licensing Barrier

In many professions, licensing serves a clear and effective purpose: to ensure people have the skills they need to work. However, the workforce is rapidly changing and it is important to make sure regulations are keeping up. Margaret Busse, executive director of the Utah Department of Commerce, said that their office is proud to serve Utahns by ensuring licensing requirements are relevant.

“After being elected, Governor Cox’s first executive order was to require agents to reevaluate licencing,” Busse said. “Governor Cox sees licensing reform as a huge opportunity to remove barriers for those looking to work.”

The governor’s aforementioned executive order led to 16 outdated license requirements to be deleted, and his office continues to determine how to have efficient regulation and protect the public without inhibiting workers. Doing so removes out-of-date barriers that stand in the way of workers doing their jobs.

Removing Barriers for Refugees, Veterans, and People with Disabilities

Utah is home to a large population of refugees and veterans. In addition, 1 in 4 Utahns have a disability. All of those groups have one crucial commonality: they face additional hardship in finding work. 

Luckily, there are a number of ways that employers can work to recruit workers from those groups. Loggins Merrill, workforce development director at the Utah Department of Workforce Services, says that doing so is beneficial to both parties involved. 

“These people are resilient, flexible, and they bring so much diversity to the table,” Merrill said. “They are a great resource for our workplaces.”

By working with programs like the Hire Our Heroes and the Utah Patriot Partnership, employers can hire from those diverse groups, growing the workforce while simultaneously offering job opportunities for those who need it. Cory Pearson, deputy director of Veteran Services, has seen such success firsthand.

“One thing that we have done is work with Workforce Services to make the hiring process easier,” said Pearson. “Veterans can get priority, specialized help at every step of the way.”

Linda Wardell is the General Manager at the City Creek Center, and she explained that her company has had great experiences hiring refugees. 

“We work very closely with resettlement agencies,” Wardell said. “Working with refugees has been so rewarding, and they have become family to us.”

Employers are encouraged to do whatever they can to ensure that everyone, no matter their background, can have an opportunity to work. Utah is a place where everyone belongs, and we must make sure that our workplace reflects that.