As the economy continues its overall rebound from the Great Recession of 2008, employers are finding it increasingly difficult to find the candidates they need to fill open positions.
There continues to be a shortage of qualified applicants for many jobs. Employers must be thoughtful and persistent in searching for the right team members to perform the needed tasks – as well as careful to retain the quality employees already on board.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the statewide unadjusted unemployment rate for December 2016 was 2.8 percent, the lowest rate since 2000.
While that may mean good news for the economy as a whole, it presents specific challenges to employers looking to replace workers or expand staffing.
“The current job market favors job seekers,” says David Augustinho, Executive Director of the Cape & Islands Workforce Investment Board. “Unemployment rates are at historic lows throughout the nation. Our region is experiencing similar drops, with rates 2 to 3 percentage points below a few years ago, even in our ‘slower’ winter months. Job seekers can request wage levels and benefits that were unthinkable in 2009, ’10, ’11 or ’12.”
Augustinho notes that employers need to cast a very wide net to fill jobs these days.
“Many business owners are seeking nontraditional pools of labor like older workers or individuals with disabilities,” adds Augustinho.
“Certainly, higher pay rates and better benefits will help attract workers. I think that part of the challenge for employers today is trying to hold onto their current workforce. Small culture changes, like offering more training to workers, can help to retain staff. The good news for employers is that it is not always about higher salaries, employees who feel appreciated for what they do, and who feel part of the decision making process, are more likely to stay with an employer.”
As an HR consultant serving a wide array of businesses in our region, Pamela Sande, Managing Principal of Pamela Sande and Associates, sees this as a challenging job market for employers on two fronts.
“First, there are fewer individuals applying for jobs in general,” Sande says, “and second, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find individuals for certain jobs who have the required skills and experience. The Massachusetts unemployment rate for December 2016, dropped to 2.8 percent. This compares to the national rate at 4.7 percent. Over the year, Massachusetts added 75,000 jobs. This, combined with the decrease in the unemployment rate, increases the competition for labor, especially skilled labor.
“Many employers seek candidates from other parts of the nation and the world to find individuals with the requisite skills and experience,” adds Sande. “Our cost of living is high in Massachusetts, and this fact sometimes makes it difficult to compete for talent.”
This tight market means that employers need to look beyond just hiring to also focus on keeping the employees they already have.
Roberta Matuson, an author, speaker, consultant and founder of Matuson Consulting, which helps businesses attract and retain the best talent, notes that the record-low rates of unemployment here in Massachusetts is creating chaos for many organizations.
“Much of my work right now is helping clients create a force field around their organizations to prevent others from plucking out their superstars,” says Matuson. “I would suggest businesses invest more heavily in their retention efforts, since it’s easier and more cost-effective to keep good workers than to find new employees.”
Kathy Asinas, HR and Talent Manager for Complete Payroll Solutions, adds that the applicant shortage isn’t the only factor making hiring more difficult for employers.
“The job market today is very candidate-driven and there is a shortage of qualified applicants for many positions,” says Asinas. “Social media has also impacted the recruiting process; just as a customer can provide a rating of your business, applicants and employees can use multiple social media platforms (Indeed, Glass Door, Yelp, Google Pages, etc.) to provide feedback about the interview process and working for your company. This has made it even more important for employers to provide a good experience for job seekers and employees. Follow-through and communication with all candidates is key.”
A major disconnect is that many of those looking for work are lacking the specific skills and experience needed to fill the positions that are available with local employers.
“The Cape is currently experiencing an employee’s market,” notes Joan Rezendes, Director of Business Services at Career Opportunities. “There are plenty of jobs on the Cape; jobs that cannot be filled by the current available workforce. Employers, on the other hand, are having a difficult time finding qualified employees. They can’t find people to work; and if they do, the candidate often lacks some of the major skills needed to do the job. There is a skills gap between the skills of the unemployed job seekers and the skills required to fill the positions that are available.”
Many of these skills are not only more technical, job-specific skills, but also include softer skills that relate to proper behavior at work and the appropriate levels of professionalism many jobs necessitate.
“The current job market is relatively good for employers and job seekers,” says Sue Whitaker, Director of Business Services for the South Shore Workforce Investment Board. “The unemployment rate is relatively low and we have seen an increase in jobs within our region. However, there are many job seekers who are still struggling to find employment that offers a livable wage with benefits and employers are finding it increasingly difficult to find individuals who have the necessary work readiness skills they are looking for. That includes being prepared to come to work daily, showing up on time, completing tasks when asked, being reliable, dressing appropriately for work, etc. These ‘soft’ skills are often more sought after by employers than other skills sets because, in their eyes, you can train someone how to use a new software, but it’s hard to train someone to have a strong work ethic. This is a challenge among many employers and the workforce system and educational system are doing their best to address this issue and find ways to enlighten job seekers.”
While this is a tight marketing for employers, job seekers still faces some challenges as well.
“It can be hard to get your foot in the door of an office environment with good benefits if you are an entry-level college educated jobseeker on Cape,” says Peter MacDonald, Risk Advisor at Murray & MacDonald Insurance.
“Developing specific talents or communicating notable achievements will help set you apart. At the same time, employers say it is hard to find good entry-level help, especially with rising wages. I think that if management can set up a plan for success and a job seeker is willing to have an ownership attitude, there is a lot of opportunity for both employer and employee.”
How to attract and retain
Creating a capable, stable workforce for your business is a two-fold process that involves both attracting the employees you need and ensuring that the employees you already have stay with you. Hiring and training new employees can be extremely costly for a business, so it is generally in your best interest to keep quality staffers on board your team.
“The best way to attract and retain the best employees in today’s job market is to develop a specific strategy for attracting and retaining the talent your business requires to be successful,” says Sande. “Before sourcing candidates, you need to understand your market and how best to compete. Ultimately, your strategy should include pay and benefits as well as other rewards highly valued by candidates such as opportunities for career development, work-life programs (e.g., time off and flexible schedules), recognition, and a positive working environment and culture. Regarding pay and benefits, one way to optimize your competitiveness may be to offer incentive compensation and bonuses. These types of programs drive performance and yet are not fixed costs like base pay and salaries. By taking a strategic ‘total rewards’ approach and branding it, you optimize your competitiveness.”
Rezendes offers a reminder that employers need to be adaptable and flexible when both hiring and managing workers.
“Businesses on the Cape need to be flexible, creative and willing to try new approaches,” says Rezendes. “Even though efforts are being made to keep the younger generation here, the Cape is still losing its young workforce because they can’t afford to live here. Unless businesses are willing to provide workers housing for their employees, they need to look beyond their ‘ideal’ workforce and explore other options, such as hiring and training the unskilled worker or hiring the mature worker, veterans, and people with disabilities. If a job requires 35 to 40 hours per week and they can’t find the right full-time candidate, they might want to consider hiring two part-tine candidates.”
Employees tend to stay where they feel valued, so it follows that if you want to keep the valuable workers that you have, and bring even new ones into the fold, you need to understand what they value and what it important to them. This thoughtful approach can reap countless rewards in terms of employee longevity.
“Businesses need to be placing an emphasis on valuing their employees,” says Whitaker. “If you want someone to be loyal to you, you must first be loyal to them. Oftentimes it’s not employers who offer the highest salaries or bonuses that are the most attractive to job seekers. Rather, they seek out companies who show they value their employees – whether it’s by offering flexible work schedules, onsite childcare, the option to volunteer as part of their work, the ability to work remotely, or wellness programs that encourage work/life balance. Businesses need to think of their employees as an investment – because they are! Individuals who offer the most talent want to be continuously challenged, have opportunity to grow in their career, be provided trainings to continue to enhance their skill set and be part of an organization that recognizes they have a life outside of the office as well.”
It’s often said that employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers. Leaders of an organization set the tone and create the culture of the work environment.
“It all comes down to magnetic leadership,” says Matuson. “In my new book, The Magnetic Leader, I highlight a number of Massachusetts-based leaders who are doing an exceptional job of attracting and retaining the best employees in today’s competitive job market. Would you believe several of them work for nonprofits? They don’t have large budgets to buy talent. It’s their personal magnetism that attracts people and gets them to stick around.”
While most business owners and managers understand the need to effectively market their products and services, many do not spend the same amount of time and effort marketing their company as an appealing place to work. This can be an important tool in helping businesses position themselves to draw talented workers.
“Name recognition and employer branding are key to attracting and retaining top employees in today’s market,” says Asinas. “Use your job postings, website and social media to promote your organization, demonstrate how the organization cares and appreciates its employees, and share publicly about your culture, mission and vision of your company. During the interview process, be sure to talk about potential growth opportunities, without making any guarantees or promises, of course.”
When it comes down to it, it behooves businesses to remember that job applicants and employees are human beings too, and approach the process with the realization that they want to be valued and challenged. The companies that enact policies along those frameworks, that support employees and acknowledge their needs and priorities with a culture of excellence and understanding, will be the ones that rise to the top and attract and retain the best workers – which, in the end, helps the bottom line.
Case study: How Rogers & Gray pursues successful hiring and retention
We asked David Robinson, President and CEO of Rogers & Gray Insurance Agency, for his insight on hiring and retention. Rogers & Gray is one of the largest employers in our region and, to ensure a reliable stream of employees, the company has taken innovative steps to control its destiny in that regard. Here, in his own words, is Robinson’s perspective on how to hire and retain the best employees:
Unemployment is at a record low in Massachusetts, which is a very positive indicator for our economic performance, however, this indicator is rather broad and doesn’t necessarily speak to the insurance industry or even the seasonal types of employment opportunities that our region provides.
To be specific about the recruiting experience Rogers & Gray has had, you need to understand the state of the industry. By the early 2020s, more than 50 percent of people currently working in the industry will retire and the industry is not positioned to backfill those jobs. We began looking at this challenge more than five years ago with the understanding that this shortage was going to be a great threat to our growth and operations. We focused in on recruiting, training and retention as the three main elements of our plan.
To prepare for this change, we started our own training academy, The Rogers & Gray Academy and hired a recruiter. Through our Academy staff, we have developed new and existing talent in the insurance industry, allowing us to hire more than 45 new employees in the last two years. The majority (51 percent) did not have any prior insurance experience. We are very pleased with the investment we made in our infrastructure and believe that within the next three years we will have 75 percent of our new hires coming with no prior experience.
Home-growing this talent has given us the opportunity to grow at a rapid, but healthy, pace while others struggle with not only trying to train existing employees, but replacing staff when a retirement happens.
Through this change, we have also evolved our internal operations – creating new positions driven by the advances in technology and the ability to ladder. While face-to-face client contact is still paramount to our business, the behind-the-scenes processing and support departments have become critical to our growth. These positions didn’t exist five years ago and they are a fantastic training ground for those wishing to move into Client Management. With laddering, we have had many talented individuals on our team rise through the organization and become part of our senior management team. Both our Director of Human Resources and Director of Business Development are great examples of how this infrastructure can challenge people and give them more and more opportunity if they so desire.
Retention is a key piece of our strategy as well. We believe that compensation and benefits are important to our team members and focus on improving our programs all the time.
We view our benefits package not as a stagnant plan, but one that needs to evolve and remain cutting edge. Generational differences also come into play when structuring benefits and work environment, but we are convinced that all generations desire a strong culture that allows them to thrive and enjoy their time at work because after all you spend about one third of your life working. This is something we are committed to from all levels in our organization.
Rogers & Gray focus on a strong family like culture, through our established guiding principal and core values. To us, this focus and commitment is what truly retains and attracts employees. We feel that excellent compensation and benefits are a given, but a strong culture is what will clearly measure your success in retaining and recruiting team members.
Retention is key
We asked local human resources experts about the key elements to retaining quality employees – their answers can be adapted to almost any business.
Pamela Sande: “Retention starts with hiring the right individual for the right job. Be sure to understand and document the major functions of the job, education and experience required, and the skills, competencies and knowledge required. From there, develop a list of interview questions that include behavioral and probing questions. Also, do background and reference checks. Once hired, implement an onboarding program. Onboarding programs do not have to be expensive – just effective. For example, have the employee meet with others with whom they will be working, take the employee out for lunch, do regular check-ins and feedback sessions with the employee, train the employee as needed to perform the job well, assign a ‘buddy’ to whom the employee can ask general questions, and so on. All this, in addition to a good total rewards strategy, will help retain good employees.”
Kathy Asinas: “Employees appreciate transparency from their employers. Where is the company going, how and why are decisions made, and what is the plan for the future? The more information and increased communication you have with your employees, the more engaged they will be − which results in increased job satisfaction and retention. If employees are constantly looking over their shoulder and are unsure of the future, they will always be looking for other opportunities. Transparency builds trust. Keep the communication open and frequent, and your employees will shine.”
Peter MacDonald: “Do what is right. Stand by your word. Have fun. Make the workplace enjoyable.”
Joan Rezendes: “Invest in your employees by providing ongoing training opportunities so they can grow in their positions; get to know their career goals and, if applicable, keep them in mind for future opportunities within your company; treat them with respect and provide the latitude and support they need to do their jobs; and offer them as much of a flexible work schedule as the company will allow.”
Sue Whitaker: “Be honest. Good employees are more likely to stay if you are honest and transparent with them. Follow the golden rule. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Employees do not expect the sun, moon and stars − but they do want to be respected and treated like human beings with lives outside the office. I’ve had so many people tell me that they stay where they are because their boss is understanding when their child is sick or has a school play, and they value that so much that they don’t want to leave. I think employers think they have to pay people more to keep them. In fact, you need salaries to be on the mark – but not necessarily the highest end of the range. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, people don’t leave companies, they leave managers. This can’t be understated. Leadership is not a skill all people are born with. Many times individuals are promoted to management positions without being given any training or guidance for learning how to effectively lead or manage individuals. One retired manager told me it all boils down to expectations. When he hires someone new, he sits them down and explains what he expects from them and then, in turn, he asks what they expect from him. This is an example of a good manager. It is a two-way street. Keep an open door policy. Take time to listen to your employees and hear what is important to them. Do not think that what motivates one person will motivate another. You must make adjustments in your style to address their needs. While one person might welcome public praise in front of their peers, another might be very uncomfortable with any public attention and would prefer a personal one-on-one compliment. You need to know your employees, what they value, how they tick and what motivates them. Once you tap into that, and you do your very best to try and meet their needs, you have the potential to hold on to them for a very long time.”
A successful search
There are myriad ways to find employees – word of mouth, online job boards, staffing firms. These experts share their tips on how to find the method that works best for your business.
“Today there are several ways to source candidates that fit the needs of a particular employer. Your website is your calling card. The information a jobseeker sees on your website should be up to date, accurate and eye-catching. Applicants should be able to post their resume and fill out an application online.
“Jobseekers are increasingly using social media to search for jobs. Linkedin, Instagram and Twitter are popular with jobseekers. External jobsites such as Indeed, Glass Door, Zip Recruiter and CareerBuilder will post your positions and link jobseekers to your online application.
“For high-level or hard-to-fill positions, a staffing agency should be considered when a position must be filled quickly or other recruitment strategies have been exhausted. Employee referral programs are a low-cost way to find viable candidates. Open houses and job fairs are effective and give the applicant an opportunity to learn about your company and the open position and interview on the spot.” −− Louise Backaler, Senior Consultant, Pamela Sande & Associates LLC
“Develop a pipeline of qualified candidates, even when you don’t have an open position. Whenever you are out talking about your company, always keep a recruiting mindset; talk about future employment opportunities and always be on the lookout for qualified candidates or people to recommend qualified candidates. Keep communication open and ongoing with these folks so you are ready to move quickly when you need to add to your team. Just like you are always selling your business, you want to be marketing your employer brand and opportunities.”—Kathy Asinas, Complete Payroll Solutions
“What’s the best way to find employees that fit the needs of a particular employer? I would recommend they contact their local one-stop career center. Our trained business services representatives can assist employers in their efforts to find the right fit. They have a database of job seekers and they also offer programs that can help reduce the cost of hiring and training a new employee.”−−Joan Rezendes, Job Training & Employment Corporation
“What’s the best way to find employees that fit the needs of a particular employer? At the end of the day, it’s all about fit. Someone might have a great resume and might fall short on an interview, and conversely, someone might look weak on paper and be a total stand-out during the interview process. I always tell employers you can train someone to do a job, but you can’t train someone to care about doing a good job. When I am meeting with businesses, it’s imperative to determine what actual job skills and experience is required, but beyond that, it’s important to understand the corporate culture, the management style, expectations, etc. Is a sense of humor important? Do you need to be persuasive? Is it a work hard/play hard culture? Or a very quiet, subdued atmosphere? Making the personality fit is just as important if not more important than skills sometimes. I also believe hiring managers often make a mistake in looking to hire a person who has all the skills and experience for the role. If they know how to do everything, how will they be challenged? Won’t they be bored? How good will they feel about taking on the role when it’s doing what they are doing now, just at another company? You want to find someone who is hungry to take on more challenges, has an appropriate amount of experience and skill to be able to grow into the role.”—Sue Whitaker, South Shore Workforce Investment Board
The youth market
While many employers have programs in place for hiring and retaining workers, often the youth market it overlooked. Lynne Courtney, Director of Youth Services for the South Shore Workforce Investment Board, notes that special considerations sometimes need to be enacted to train, hire and retain younger workers.
“Youth unemployment is still very high,” says Courtney. “Young people need opportunities to break into the workplace.”
To help businesses attract and retain the best employees in today’s job market, Courtney suggests that they create their own pipeline.
“Look to establish some type of apprenticeship program, perhaps in conjunction with a high school, community college or Workforce Development Board to feed well-prepared employees into the workplace.”
When it comes to finding the right employees, particularly younger workers who may not have extensive experience, Courtney recommends that businesses focus on the actual tasks required in a job.
“Making blanket requirements such as ‘must possess bachelor’s degree’ often eliminates a pool of candidates who might be well suited to the position. Use industry-specific networking opportunities to recruit.”
And when it comes to retaining those employees, the same approach helps keep both younger workers and more established worked content and motivated: “Positive feedback, fair pay, flexibility in terms of work/life balance, providing opportunities so that employees have a feeling of ownership and accomplishment.”
This article was published in the March 2017 issue of Cape & Plymouth Business.