Virtual job fair aimed at attracting disabled workers

With the percentage of disabled federal workers dropping, a recruitment agency offers feds a chance to interview workers with disabilities in Second Life.

Recruitment agency TMP Worldwide Advertising & Communications is seeking more than a few good agencies to join a job fair in the virtual world Second Life.

Comment on this article in The Forum. Riding the success of its private sector recruiting fairs in the virtual world in May and August 2007 -- which resulted in more than 310 interviews in 12 hours -- TMP hopes to entice agencies by holding out the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Leadership for the Employment of Americans with Disabilities initiative as bait.

"We see it as an opportunity for agencies to stem a 10-year decline in representation of people with disabilities," said John Bersentes, director of business development for TMP government solutions.

EEOC Commissioner Christine Griffin has called on agencies to step up hiring of disabled people because the percentage of the federal workforce that is disabled has fallen from 1.24 percent in 1994 to 0.97 percent (or 24,086 employees) in 2006.

TMP held a virtual job fair for people with disabilities in France in February, which inspired the U.S. government solutions group to follow suit, Bersentes said. Agencies would pay TMP to create virtual buildings for them on one of its two islands in Second Life, to advertise the job fair to prospective applicants, teach them how to move around the islands as avatars (3-D representations of themselves), and permit agencies to preview and choose the applicants they interview -- virtually, of course. The cost of the services and the building, specifically outfitted to express the culture of the organization, would run between $30,000 and $50,000, Bersentes estimated, though the fee would depend on who an agency was trying to reach.

Bersentes sees a business opportunity in the fact that the 56 million Americans with disabilities -- 20 percent of the U.S. population -- spend twice as much time online as do the nondisabled. Forty percent of disabled people conduct business and personal activities online, he added. They should be considered prime job candidates because they have lower turnover rates than nondisabled people, he said.

TMP has worked with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and other partners to ensure the synthetic world job fair is accessible. TMP plans to create a chat-based micro site especially for those with visual impairments.

Because those over 55 are more likely to become disabled, Bersentes views TMP's effort dovetailing with those of agencies such as Citizenship and Immigration Services , which is recruiting retirees to help handle a huge backlog of citizenship applications.

Last year's Second Life job fair ran into some problems. Some applicants spent hours learning how to create and manipulate their avatars and still weren't able to master such simple interview etiquette as sitting in chairs .

Nevertheless, TMP is committed to recruiting online. It also has created a Facebook application called "Work With Me," according to director of marketing John Refo. A company's employees can use it to post job openings on their own Facebook pages and then receive credit if applicants who navigate through their pages are hired.