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Untapped Talent: Recruiting & Hiring the Hidden Workforce

Untapped Talent: Strategies for Accessing the Hidden Workforce

By Jenny Barnes on Jun 26, 2024
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The HR world is abuzz with worries about recruiting becoming tougher and tougher. According to recent survey data, while layoffs may still be in the cards, only a fraction of employers are planning on implementing hiring freezes or reducing hiring plans.

Organizations everywhere report that one of their toughest HR concerns is the struggle to find enough high-quality candidates to fill open roles. But, as employers, are the “blinders” we wear as recruiters partly to blame? 

In this article, we’ll discuss the hidden workforce: a forgotten subset of candidates who are eager to make their mark in the world of work. We’ll explain how you can access this pool of untapped talent—and strengthen and diversify your workplace while doing so. 

RELATED: Hiring Family Members - The Pros, Cons & Best Practices >>

What is the Forgotten Workforce? 

The forgotten workforce, or the “hidden workforce,” is the significant and growing group of people who, despite their eagerness to improve their position in the working world, are either unemployed or underemployed. 

The concept of the forgotten workforce refers in part to the mismatch that has occurred between companies that are eager for talent and people who are eager for work, though the stars never seem to align perfectly for these groups. As the Harvard Business Review describes it as a “breakdown in the fundamental laws of supply and demand.” 

While employers so often focus on recruiting recent graduates or experienced professionals for open roles, the forgotten workforce represents a shifting but substantial portion of the labor market. 

hiring someone with a prior criminal record

Where Can We Find Untapped Talent? 

Organizations can uncover a wealth of untapped talent by hiring within the forgotten workforce. Research shows that investing in this talent pool isn’t an act of charity, it’s a competitive advantage.

According to research published in the “Hidden Worker – Employer Survey,” produced by Accenture and Harvard Business School’s Project on Managing the Future of Work, companies who seek and hire workers from within the forgotten workforce: 

  • Reap a significant return on investment 
  • Are  36% less likely to deal with labor shortages and skills deficiencies than their counterparts who don’t recruit from within the forgotten workforce 
  • Are 36% more likely to hire workers with great attitudes 
  • Have a far easier time meeting their goals to diversify their workforce 

5 Sources of Untapped Talent

Applicants in the forgotten workforce often have valuable skills and experiences that are overlooked due to unconventional career paths, life circumstances, or other barriers to success. Here are just five of the many groups of untapped talent you might consider: 

Retirees Who Want to Work

According to a 2024 study, 26% of retirees have regrets about retiring. The vast majority of this subset (78 percent) have financial regrets and may be considering re-entering the workforce in some capacity.

l.In 2024, the average U.S. retirement age was 62—up from 59 in 2002 and 57 in 1991. The heightened change in recent years shows individuals may be far more apt to work longer in 2024 and beyond. 

RELATED:Preventing Age Discrimination at Work 

New Collar Workers

While the world has traditionally separated workers into buckets of blue and white, “new-collar workers” are those who may fall somewhere in between, in a particularly modern way. New collar workers are employees who receive their training through nontraditional methods.

Unlike many white collar workers, new collar workers may not have university degrees, but they also aren't always engaged in the strictly manual labor we may associate as blue collar, either.  

It's common for new collar workers to be self-taught, or to have attended community colleges, technical or trade schools, or to have gained skills through certification programs, “boot camps” for coding, or similar.

If your hiring team is inadvertently filtering your job applications for required degrees, you could be missing out on this pool of untapped talent. 

RELATED: Redefining Talent - The Rise of New Collar Workers >>


An Accenture and Harvard Business School joint study, which examined the experiences and barriers individuals faced when joining the workforce, revealed:

  • 18% of respondents had caregiving responsibilities for children
  • 19% had caregiving responsibilities for adults
  • 8% were “trailing partners,” or individuals who relocated to support the work of their partner or spouse

Combined, this is a significant portion of individuals who, despite their obligations at home, are interested in working and able to do so. While caregivers may need flexible hours or work-from-home capabilities, this pool of untapped talent is made up of committed and capable employees who are worth the investment. 

Individuals with Physical or Mental Barriers

The Accenture-HBR study also revealed that individuals with long-term health issues represent a huge part of the forgotten workforce. Of the United States respondents surveyed, 13 percent had a developmental or neurodiversity disability, 14 percent had a physical disability, 21 percent suffered from health problems, 24 percent suffered from mental health challenges, and 5 percent had a history of substance or alcohol abuse. 

While these individuals may require some flexibility or accommodations, there are ways both parties can benefit from forging a working relationship. For example, when it comes to working with individuals who are neurodiverse, it’s all about finding the perfect fit for their unique capabilities and talents. And for individuals facing long-term health issues (including long COVID), a willingness to explore flexible work arrangements can make all the difference. 

Individuals with Felonies

Research published in the Journal of Labor Policy shows that although workers with blemishes on their records face barriers to finding gainful employment, these barriers are based largely on long-standing biases, not actual job performance. The data also shows that “individuals with criminal records have a much longer tenure and are less likely to quit their jobs voluntarily than other workers.” 

autism in the workplace

If you’re searching for your source of untapped talent, it helps to remember the forgotten workforce. Axcet HR Solutions is here to help you expand your recruitment horizons and find the right fit for every position, every time. 

Axcet HR Solutions is a certified professional employer organization (PEO) that is proud to offer small to mid-sized businesses comprehensive guidance on compliant recruitment, retention, and more. We can take the wheel on HR compliance (and a full range of other tasks), while you regain the time and resources needed to focus on growing and scaling your core business. Schedule a conversation today to learn more. New call-to-action

Written by Jenny Barnes

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