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Innovation, streamlining hiring processes keys to attracting, keeping top talent in tight labor market

PMG FILE - Judy Clark, founder and owner of HR Answers Inc.These days, winning customers isn't the only area in which companies in Oregon are competing with each other.

Now more than ever, with the state's unemployment rate at 4.1% in September, companies need to become innovative when it comes to recruiting and keeping top talent, Judy Clark told a group of business professionals gathered in Lake Oswego on Wednesday, Oct. 23.

Clark, founder and owner of HR Answers Inc., was the featured speaker at the Fall 2019 Kruse Way Economic Forum hosted by Buckley Law. During her presentation, she shared some tips for recruiting, hiring and retaining skilled workers in today's competitive landscape.

"The coming labor shortage is the present labor shortage, and it's likely to get a little worse before it gets better," said Clark, who has spent 30 of her 40 years in the human resources industry as a consultant.

With 1.7 million more jobs than people to fill them in September of this year, it's an employee's market, Clark told forum attendees. That means companies have to be more aware than ever of how they present themselves when recruiting, including how they're being represented online at sites like Yelp and Glassdoor.

"Branding is increasingly important," Clark said.

A company's workplace culture "is no longer confined to your four walls," she added. "It's out and about and anyone can have access to that."

Clark suggests employers begin viewing the task of recruiting applicants as an exercise in gaining an edge over other companies competing for those same candidates. That means looking outside the typical places for posting jobs. Posting jobs on social media such as LinkedIn and Twitter have become the most common avenue of recruiting. In recent surveys, for example, 80% of respondents said social media is their main go-to. Of the 20% not using social media, 9% said they plan to begin using it in the near future.

While social media is a reliable way to find applicants, Clark also suggests companies look for innovative approaches that will put them ahead of the competition.

She told forum attendees about one organization that hired members of a Boy Scout troop to place cards with job announcements on the doors of homes in a neighborhood. In addition to a flat rate for the job, the troop members were paid $200 for each person hired as a result of the campaign. The approach was so successful that parents of the troop members also got involved, handing out the door hangers to friends and colleagues. In the end, the company found 83% of the people it needed to fill positions from the door card campaign.

Another company posts its job openings at local laundromats, an approach that has resulted in a high recruitment rate, Clark said. She also suggests checking in with college employment offices.

"Some people have returned to school to learn new skills," Clark said.

Another good source for possible candidates is trade associations that cater to the industry a company is involved in or serves. Those groups often receive resumes from people looking to work in specific industries.

While open positions often feel like a burden for some companies, Clark recommends viewing an employee leaving as an opportunity to review whether it's time to update the position to fit the future of the company.

"Break out of the mold you've always used," she said, adding that it's easier to shift or restructure a position when the spot is empty rather than trying to force someone already in a position to adjust how they work.

Take a look, for example, at whether a full-time position needs to be handled by a single person or whether there's an opportunity to turn it into a job-share spot. An open position also provides a chance for an in-house promotion, something that builds what Clark calls employee capital.

She does caution against taking too much time to figure out how to best fill an open position, however. On average, it takes an employer 27 days to fill a job post. Most applicants now say that's too long for them to wait.

Instead, Clark says, companies should aim to get an employee on board in three to seven days. The longer an employer waits, the better the chance that other companies will snatch up qualified candidates.

"Set other things aside and work on recruiting," she said.

For companies that use background checks, she suggests streamlining the process by conducting the check after hiring an employee with the understanding that their employment is contingent on passing the background check.

Signing bonuses also are becoming popular. However, Clark said employers need to be careful that in offering those bonuses, they don't violate pay equity laws.

When it comes to keeping employees once they're hired, companies again must continue to try harder than their competition. While most companies tend to conduct exit interviews when employees leave, Clark suggests doing "stay" interviews to find out what's keeping employees at the company and what can be done to make their jobs easier and more enjoyable.

A large number of entry-level employees, according to studies Clark cited, say being able to tap on-going training is a big incentive to remaining with a company. That training includes learning new skills and industry approaches that will help them build their experience and add value for their current and future employers.

Some companies also are starting to look at helping employees pay off student loans in order to keep them on board. However, Clark cautions this approach also requires taking a close look to make sure pay equity laws aren't being violated.

Clark also offered a parting suggestion that employers make sure they've set in place the necessary steps to make sure they're in line with Oregon's pay equity law, which went into effect at the beginning of this year. While the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries has been focused on educating companies about what they need to do to meet the law, the agency will eventually "get more aggressive about sanctions," Clark said.


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