Which Way Did They Go?

Good employees are hard to find. And, once they come to work in your organization they are frequently even harder to keep. This is especially true for entry-level workers in so-called blue-collar jobs. While this may not be a problem in some places, in areas experiencing population growth (like ours) and the accompanying expansion of infrastructure, it is a real and growing concern. Couple this with price increases for basic commodities and materials and the shifting of labor to the highest bidder and you have a real nightmare on your hands.

The True Cost of Employee Vacancies

If you are a leader in your organization you need to think about the true cost of those continuing vacancies in your staffing table. Consider time as a very valuable commodity. We all have a lot of time invested in the many facets of employing staff. Specifically:

How many people are involved in the employee recruiting efforts in your organization? If you are like us there are several layers of bureaucracy investing time, talent and people just to announce the vacancy. We have people who prepare the request for filling a vacancy and the ads to advertise the vacancy. We have other people who make the procurement decisions, purchase the ad space, and then pay the bills for those ads.

Once you begin the recruitment process how many people and how much time is invested by your organization in providing the recruitment documents, reviewing those documents for completion and meeting the minimum requirements for the job?

Next, how much time and how many staff are involved in the interview process?

Then how much time and how many employees are involved with the decisions to offer an applicant employment and perform any background and security screening?

If you haven’t process mapped or flow-charted this in your organization do so. You and all of those who play a part in these many steps will be amazed. You will find the recruitment of even one new employee costs thousands of dollars in direct and indirect costs. This says nothing of the cost of lost productivity and possible overtime expense associated with the lack of staff in the field. Mapping this will give you the data you may need to make the point to your decision makers. That point is there is urgency and importance in the need to recruit quickly.

Creating A Safe Place Through The Recruitment Process

It’s a sad fact that we do not all live in a safe world. As a public park operation our department places great emphasis on our core values. Those values are that we are always “Clean, Green, Safe and Fun.” We live these values and place special emphasis in the specific and implied contract with our customers. When they are on our property they will be safe.

In our world safety starts with safe employees – people who provide a safe environment for our customers. We do extensive background screening on all of our employees and volunteers. All of our full time employees are thoroughly vetted through state and federal data banks for prior criminal backgrounds. Potential full time staff is also given a polygraph examination before employment. We will not interview candidates who do not have at least a high school diploma or a GED. Our reasoning is that all park and recreation staff will have interaction with our customers and a sizeable number of our customers are children.

This caution on our part comes with a cost. That cost is not just measured in the expense of these recruitment steps but in the time it takes to make an employment offer to a prospective candidate.

For entry-level employees those candidates do not have the financial luxury of waiting long periods of time without employment. More to the point if they come with experience and good credentials they will be quickly employed by someone else if we delay too long in our process. Even though this extra caution adds to the cost and time to recruit and employ, I would urge everyone in our business to give strong emphasis to the recruitment of safe employees.

Fish in the Right Ocean

Now that we have firmly established the importance of good recruiting; how can it be done efficiently and more to the point effectively? We discovered early in our recruitment process we were often unable to offer a prospective candidate employment even after they had passed several of the vetting steps. The reason was they washed out somewhere along the line during the screening process. Our solution was to target the cohorts who have made the grade in the selection process in the past. In other words fish in the right ocean to catch the greatest number of keepers.

Some of the most fruitful groups to go after for us were:

· Early Retirees -- Florida is a retirement haven for many. Often those who have retired to our area are in early retirement and given the right incentives (another retirement income, health insurance. etc.) they choose to re-enter the work force. These folks come to us with a work ethic, experience, maturity and discipline.

· Retired Military – Again many who retire from the military are attracted to the possibility of a second retirement income, educational reimbursements, and career promotional opportunities. They are a great asset in they are disciplined, trained and can hit the ground running.

· High School Graduates – Since we will not employee individuals without a high school diploma or GED, why not recruit through the high schools? These potential candidates relate to our ability to pay for college. Since some never dreamed they could afford to go to college, they are interested in their ability to make a good wage during the day, get solid work experience and training and be reimbursed for their college courses taken during off hours.

· Seasonal and Contract Employees – If you or your staff treat these employees as throwaways you are squandering a very valuable resource. For us, these folks have been vetted through our rigorous screening process. Their work is a known quantity and they have been trained to our processes. What an asset. We reach out to these people in every way we can.

· Women Re-entering the Work Force – Many women left the work force to raise children or to be caregivers to family. When they are ready to re-enter the work arena we are ready with a job offer. Most often they come to us with maturity, a sense of responsibility, a work ethic and experience in life and in prior work. They react most positively not just to our rates of pay, but to health insurance for their families, paid vacations, educational opportunities, and our generous defined benefit retirement plan. To all of you male readers out there. Women make up over 50 percent of the work force nationwide. If we males don’t get past the male oriented notion of physical work we are really missing the opportunity to recruit and develop a major source of labor and leadership for the future.

Tell the Story

A major challenge in fishing for employees in different seas is getting your story out in the language that will resonate with the audience you have targeted for recruitment. In the past we were content to advertise in the daily newspaper, trade publications and on the Internet. We weren’t catching many keepers especially for our entry-level positions. Some new communication vehicles we are employing are:

Placement Ads – Place ads in weekly newspapers delivered free in residential driveways. It is important to tell your story to the audience you seek. Highlight the benefits of work with your organization you think will touch a receptive audience. If you are a diverse community, be sure you target your ads in the second language prevalent in the targeted neighborhoods.

Recreation Halls – Advertisements placed on bulletin boards in adult only retirement communities. Remember tell the right story to these potential candidates.

Index Card Ads – These are efficient in getting the story out at Laundromats, college campuses and high schools. Be sure to loop in the school guidance counselors and owners of these establishments.

Separation Counselors at Military Bases – A great way to recruit military personnel preparing to separate from the service.

Bonus to Employees – Consider getting approval from your leadership to give cash or extra time off to employees that recruit new staff for your organization.

Finally, as a part of telling the story, explain to recruits up front about any special requirements of the job. As an example, we let everyone know as a part of our advertising, we will not employ anyone with certain criminal offenses in their past. We also let them know what we will do to find out about their past. This saves them and us a lot of time, money and embarrassment.

If you routinely operate with a lot of authorized but unfilled positions in your staffing table, you can get extra positions in your organization simply by filling those vacancies quickly and retaining the workers you have on staff. If this is a problem for you as it is for us, I hope some of the information in this piece will help you to determine which way they went.

William Potter is the parks and recreation division manager for Orange County Parks, Florida. He can be reached at william.potter@ocfl.net.