In recent days, we have been hearing much about The Great Resignation. Surveys show that a job change is on the minds of nearly half of all U.S. employees. One cannot walk down any city street without seeing “Help Wanted” and “Now Hiring” signs, often with hourly wages of $15.00 per hour or more posted as enticements for new recruits. Desperation for filling entry-level positions has reached the point of taking virtually any and all applicants.
“Just get me a warm body,” one CEO recently implored. Unfortunately, the warm body approach to solving his recruitment needs has proven far from effective. He reports that such newcomers often only last a few days before moving on. It seems that the grass is perpetually greener elsewhere, especially since so many options are available that pay even more than he can offer!
So…what can this CEO do in the midst of this crazy job market? Is the only strategy to increase wages beyond what others are offering? There must be a better way!
The good news here is that today’s challenge is not new. Years ago, a client approached me in a similar state of despair to that of so many whom I see today. He complained that he was experiencing a severe shortage of entry-level employees. His company manufactured tanks for trucks used in mining operations, and he needed people who could bend sheet metal. It was hard dirty work, but until recently he had enough workers to do the job. However, he now found that the young people who he hired didn’t stick. After a paycheck or two, they quit. The CEO attributed this to a lack of maturity and commitment. “These dang kids,” he said, “they just want to make a few bucks and go blow it. It’s not like the old days when young people wanted to work.”
My client’s frustration led me to ask: “If you could find a young person who would stick, where might you find him or her?” He thought for a moment or two, then responded, “Panguitch.”
“Panguitch, Utah?” I asked, “why Panguitch?” The CEO replied, “Because those kids have been raised on farms. They know how to work…and they would probably love to get off the farm.”
My next question surprised him. “Have you tried recruiting there?” He replied that he had not. We then discussed the possibility of participating in high school job fairs in rural areas, as well as offering the possibility of having his company help soon-to- graduate high school seniors to find housing and college education opportunities in his area.
My client decided to give this strategy a try, and to his delight, he found a new source of entry-level folks who came to work for him–and stuck! As this became standard practice for his company, he enhanced the program by helping defray college tuition for those who sought advancement in his enterprise. Over the years, several advanced into engineering and management positions.
In a similar vein, I was approached by the owners of several senior care facilities a few years back who expressed concern that they were struggling to keep a sufficient staff of CNAs (Certified Nursing Assistants).
CNAs require some training, but as entry-level caregivers, they are generally able to become certified within a month or two. CNAs are necessary in a variety of health care settings, and are especially so in senior care operations. Once on the job, however, their work, while essential, can seem both repugnant and under- appreciated. Often described amongst themselves as “bedpan changers,” turnover in CNA jobs is often quite high.
As I discussed this problem with the owners, they shared that the turnover problem had worsened over the years. They sounded much like my manufacturing CEO, stating, “These kids today simply come on board for a few weeks, make enough money to go party, and leave. This generation simply wants the immediate gratification of a paycheck.”
As we chatted, I observed that virtually no CNA would want to stay in that role for a career; that it must be essentially a transitory assignment. In that regard, the owners must surely recognize that the responsibility to continually recruit CNAs is an essential operational element of their industry. They agreed, but said that it had become almost impossible to attract anyone who would stay in a CNA assignment more than a few weeks. The churn had become intolerable.
I then asked them to describe their onboarding process with new CNAs. They indicated that they had a one-day orientation period before setting forth their assignments, including stocking supplies, cleaning rooms and bed linens, feeding, bathing, grooming and transporting patients, checking patient vital signs, and assisting medical personnel.
While this response made sense, I asked how much of their orientation focused on the CNA’s personal vision of their future. The owners were taken aback by this. One admitted that none of their interchange dealt with this. The other defensively responded that “We don’t have time for career planning with these kids. There’s too much work to be done!”
While I empathized with the workload, I shared my feeling that a failure to “get into the shoes of their CNAs” was likely manifesting itself in their high turnover rate. I said, “If the kids don’t feel like they’re important to you for anything other than their work, don’t expect them to care about anything other than their paychecks.”
I then suggested that perhaps if they invested some time in ascertaining why a CNA would want to work for them, learning about their career goals, they might discern ways to connect the challenges of their new job to their future aspirations. Such interchanges should be a part of recruitment, onboarding, and subsequent conversations. While this would not change the transitory nature of the CNA role, it would likely help keep these entry-level employees a bit longer as they began to see their job as a stepping stone to other opportunities in the healthcare industry.
At this point, I suggested that they might want to strengthen their relationship with the various CNA certification institutions, establishing themselves as an ideal training ground for aspiring future nurses, doctors, and other healthcare professionals. By establishing this reputation, the probability of getting the best newly minted CNAs would increase.
It was challenging to get the owners to change their mindset and approach to CNAs. While they had been critical of “the kids” who perform this role, they had treated them as “bedpan changers,” rather than as essential players on their teams, players with personal and professional goals. When they changed how they viewed and interacted with their CNAs, their turnover problem diminished until it was no longer an issue.
So, what ultimately solved these client problems? They shifted from recruitment with extrinsic-only motivators (primarily pay) to intrinsic motivators (namely investing in the needs and desires of their recruits). They began to see their young entry-level employees through those employee’s eyes!
When my manufacturing client identified rural farm kids as his target, he thought about what would lead them to leave home to come to an urban area to work. He correctly determined that some of them would want to leave and get away from life on the farm. To this thinking, he added the perspective of their future lives and careers. Most probably hadn’t thought too much about this, but he did. He painted the picture of how his entry-level jobs might lead to new opportunities, both within his company and beyond.
When the senior care facilities owners came to see the transitory nature of their CNAs as an opportunity to facilitate their career progress rather than as a headache, they found that their turnover problem evaporated.
World renowned business author, Clayton Christensen has suggested that as we consider our customers, we should ask ourselves, “What job are they hiring us for?” Effectively, my client shifted his thinking regarding recruitment to “What job is the recruit I seek hiring me for?” By defining the answer to that question as providing a path from the farm to education to a career, he provided what his target employee wanted, as well as solving his recruitment concerns.
In today’s challenging environment of recruiting and retaining employees, one of the best questions to ask potential new hires is “What job are you hiring me for?” This will no doubt take them aback, since they are seeking to be hired, not to be offering you a job. But by asking this question and pressing for an answer, you will find what the applicant wants now and in the future. This will help move the interview to how taking the job–and staying with it–will lead to mutually beneficial outcomes.