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Advocate Aurora Health: Securing Talent through Inclusive Interviews

Find out how Advocate Aurora Health’s skills based hiring initiative has created a pipeline for hiring disabled people.

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Advocate Aurora Health (AAH)

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Sometimes, traditional interview methods may inadvertently screen out job candidates with disabilities. To prevent this problem, leadership at Advocate Aurora Health (AAH), one of the country’s leading not-for-profit health systems, worked with their Talent Sourcing and Acquisition team to create a more inclusive, skills-based approach to interviewing.

As one of the largest private employers in Wisconsin and Illinois, AAH employs more than 75,000 people across 27 hospitals and 500 other sites, with a mission to “Help People Live Well.” Their employees provide care to more than three million patients a year, and the company is committed to ensuring its workforce reflects the diversity of the communities they serve. AAH’s leadership believes that an inclusive workforce and strong community partnerships allow them to deliver equitable care for all. 

Although AAH has a long history of employing disabled people, the organization had not taken a specific proactive approach to recruit disabled and neurodivergent candidates until 2017. AAH’s skills-based interview process, which is tailored to each candidate and the position for which they apply, is an important part of AAH’s disability hiring initiative. 

The creation and implementation of the skills-based interview process required close collaboration between the Talent Sourcing and Acquisition team and other departments, including Human Resources and Operational Leadership. To ensure the initiative would be successful and sustainable, AAH also formed strong partnerships with service providers who work with neurodivergent job seekers, such as Project SEARCH, Easterseals, and other community organizations.

The Talent Sourcing and Acquisition team, along with a community partner, collaborate with hiring managers to create temporary work experiences that serve as inclusive interviews. This allows the candidate to demonstrate, rather than just explain, their skills, knowledge, and abilities on the job, alongside potential future coworkers. For example, a candidate for a lab tech position would work in the lab for a specified time known as a “probationary hire period.” The candidate would do the same work as others and be provided with any reasonable accommodations, which in turn allows hiring managers to better assess a candidate’s ability to complete job requirements. 

The goal of AAH’s disability hiring initiative is to create a more inclusive process to recruit, interview, and retain disabled people. But it is also helping to meet urgent workforce needs. As is the case with other health care systems, AAH has been impacted by the national workforce shortage, and job seekers with disabilities represent an untapped pool of skilled candidates for a variety of positions. AAH made the change in its interview process specifically to address barriers to employment for people with disabilities and improve overall recruitment efforts and the quality of candidates they attract. AAH staff members who spearheaded the initiative feel that allowing candidates to better demonstrate their skills and abilities helps AAH meet its business goals on multiple levels. 

Prior to launching this initiative, AAH’s Human Resources and Operational Leadership teams held Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Learning and Listening Sessions to educate employees and build an inclusive culture welcoming to neurodivergent team members. These sessions allowed managers and employees to ask questions and learn how they can best ensure people with disabilities feel included within the organization. 

This skills-based interview initiative has been successful in helping to attract and retain workers at AAH. Since beginning the initiative, the organization has hired 34 team members with disabilities through this inclusive process. AAH has experienced a retention rate of 71% over five years for those hired through the skill-based interview initiative. AAH leadership also reports that team members hired through the initiative are thriving in a variety of positions, including as laboratory technicians and in nutrition services and environmental services.

The initiative has also helped AAH better retain existing team members. For example, by offering an opportunity to mentor a new employee with a disability, AAH was able to retain a valued team member in Food and Nutrition Services. While the team member was initially unsure about serving as a mentor, the mentor and the new employee benefited greatly from the relationship, and both continue to be successful. These team members became champions of the effort, helping others understand its value.

“We know that work is important to our team members and often gives them meaning and purpose to their lives. Most often, our team members with disabilities find great purpose in being employed and in their work at Advocate Aurora and that is important to us.” 

- Troy Dennhof, System Vice President of Human Resources

AAH’s disability inclusion efforts, including their alternative approach to interviews, can serve as a model for others in the health care field and beyond. As more companies embrace disability as an important component of workplace diversity, innovative solutions to workplace challenges such as those developed by AAH offer a competitive advantage by increasing inclusion. Other advantages include allowing employers to more accurately and efficiently assess skills, interests, and cultural fit to address their unique talent needs.