Providence St. Joseph Health System CEO Rod Hochman spearheaded creation of an entire new School of Health Professions at the University of Providence in Great Falls, Montana, which used to be a tiny liberal-arts school affiliated with the Catholic-based company.
Trevor Gile repurposes washed-out car salespeople as sales have cooled and trains them to become repair advisors in the over-stressed service departments of his family’s two Motorcars of Cleveland dealerships in Ohio.
And in Chicago, CEO Jonathan Miller is willing to tap into the local pool of idle ex-inmates to staff production lines at his company, Element Bars, which makes nutrition bars.
“If you look for passion and a willingness to learn, you tend to find better people than those you have to fit into a box,” Miller says. “Because my box is bigger, I’ve had fewer challenges in the current employment market.”
By now, thousands of CEOs can identify with the urgency felt by these chiefs, because they well know that there are about 700,000 fewer unemployed Americans these days than there are jobs. This extreme shortage of able-bodied potential employees has set up an economy-wide game of musical chairs that CEOs experience viscerally, because they can’t afford to lose it. Solving, or at least easing that labor crunch, has risen to the top of nearly every CEO’s priority list, demanding their unprecedented creativity in attracting qualified or trainable workers right now—and testing their strategic capabilities for keeping people far into the future.
Here are 20 creative ways CEOs and their companies are finding and hooking new employees in the most challenging environment in memory:
Become missional. In-demand millennials famously want their work to mean something sublime. Some CEOs interpret that desire as simply demanding interesting tasks, and dangle what their company can offer in that regard.
“We’ve got an embarrassment of riches when it comes to challenging, exciting work with some of the greatest tech teams in the world, such as Google and Microsoft,” says David Morken, CEO of Bandwidth, a software outfit in Raleigh, North Carolina, that raised $100 million for scaling up in a 2018 IPO.
Pat Pasterick says he lures young workers to his Fort Wayne, Indiana-based architectural-engineering company, Design Collaborative, with transcendent incentives such as 10 percent time off for community work of their choice.“We don’t lose a lot of people,” Pasterick says. “It’s great for your company to do cool events, and that matters, but at the end of the day, we all want to think what we did made a difference.”
Welcome ex-convicts. Tapping into marginal populations can involve more than re-imagining roles for existing employees as Gile, the Cleveland car dealer, has done. More CEOs like Element’s Miller are endorsing the recruitment of ex-convicts, for instance.
Also in metro Chicago, two of the six employees of Tom Decker’s company, Chicago Green Insulation, have criminal backgrounds. In an attempt to vet real baddies, he gives a prospective hire with a prison record a tryout of five, eight-hour paid shifts—then employees vote on whether to hire the newcomer.
Transplant immigrants. While immigration remains a flaming political issue, desperate employers continue to find ways to incorporate legal—and presumably many illegal—immigrants into their workforces.
At a Grede Foundries plant in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, for example, the company recently hired dozens of legal immigrants from Haiti to work grueling jobs because the company couldn’t find enough willing workers locally, according to industry sources. That was despite high barriers for these itinerant workers, such as finding enough lodging and Spanish speakers in the rural town of 10,000 people. (Parent company American Axle didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.)
Enlist the autistic population. Autistic Americans comprise an underutilized group with high potential for performing many jobs, autism advocates and employment experts say. Microsoft and SAP are among companies that recently committed to start hiring employees who fall on the autism spectrum.
Such hires often require workspace modifications such as switching out LED lights for bright fluorescents and being more careful about changing company routines, which can unnerve them.
But employers might be surprised by the payoff. “People with autism tend to be highly intelligent and highly focused workers, along with loyal employees,” says Rob Wilson, president of consultants Employco USA.