Working The Problem: 20 Unique Ideas For Finding Talent

Maintain a high bar… It may seem counterintuitive, but amid their desperation for good workers, some CEOs are maintaining or even raising their employment standards instead of lowering them—because a good long-term fit is more important to them than immediate relief.

HighTower Treasury Partners, for instance, conducts a bi-annual “wealth management symposium” for a couple dozen local college students that orients them to the profession they believe they’re interested in.“The worst thing is to hire someone and only then they realize they’re sitting in front of a screen six to eight hours a day and can get restless,” says Rich Saperstein, managing director of the New York City financial management firm. “They also realize our industry doesn’t conduct itself by text message. We end up getting better-matched employees.”

…Or lower the bar: Hasbro, the giant toy maker, divided four marketing jobs designed for business-school grads with MBAs into eight lower-level positions and then dropped any college requirement for the jobs, after its standard for the earlier position was at least a two-year degree.

Make snap judgments. Boeing is among the increasing number of employers who are hiring sight-unseen, extending offers after only phone interviews for people in some entry-level positions.

At Sendik’s they’re a bit pickier. The small chain of grocery stores in metro Milwaukee hosts “Instant Interview Days” at its headquarters and at some of its 17 stores, during which it pledges to meet on the spot with every single person who comes in off the street inquiring about a job. Sendik’s ended up hiring about two dozen people from one of its last such events, in September, for which it interviewed 180 individuals.

“We’ve found that once you have a candidate, you have a sense of urgency to [hire] them as soon as possible,” says Cara Olson, human resources director. “These events increase our chances of success because these people could be interviewing with another company that afternoon.”

Pay more. Sendik’s also pursues job candidates with increasing bonuses, such as $3,000 upon hiring a new deli manager. That tactic, of course, is representative of rising wages and salaries across the economy, and CEOs must be willing to pay the price.

“The one way we’re going to solve the tightest labor market for trucking in the last 50 years is to pay drivers more,” says Don Daseke, CEO of Dallas-based Daseke Inc., a leading flatbed operator. “If we pay our truck drivers $80,000 or $100,000 a year, we won’t have a shortage of drivers.”

Get generous with benefits. Many companies are getting not only more generous but also more creative with benefits to attract incremental interest from job candidates.
Noodles & Co., a Broomfield, Colorado-based fast-casual chain of more than 400 restaurants, has just added an enhanced layer of time off for new moms that goes beyond paid maternity leave. Noodles’ “phase-out, phase-in” program allows expectant and postpartum moms to work an 80-percent schedule for a month before and a month after maternity leave.

Meanwhile, Emerson Electric, a major diversified manufacturer based in St. Louis, has improved its own family-leave program while the federal government dithers with the possibility of requiring companies to do so.

Acquire talent in chunks. Short on talent? Just buy another company that has one. This is a strategy being followed by more CEOs, including Rob Hrabe, chief and co-founder of VRC Metal Systems, a Rapid City, South Dakota-based manufacturer that has been trailblazing a cutting-edge “cold-spray” welding technique. He wants to push the $18-million company to a $100-million enterprise within the next five years, but he needs much more engineering talent to do it.

“So we’re actually going after acquisitions just because of the senior engineering talent they have in thermal-spray [welding] and other industries,” Hrabe says.

Go to schools. More CEOs aren’t waiting for the educational system to teach and disgorge workers that companies need now—they’re plunging right into colleges, universities and even high schools to look for early talent, provide resources and even influence overhauling curricula specific to their employment needs.

VRC Metal Systems, for example, works with a half-dozen universities spread across the country to get grants for cold-spray research, then buys the equipment for the schools, helps them train engineers and then hires a few each year.

Emerson devotes millions of dollars to funding scholarships that are waiting upon graduation for hundreds of high-school juniors. They fund community college programs that provide technology training that preps students for jobs at the company’s nearby facilities.

And when Braidy Industries CEO Craig Bouchard was ready to commit to building a new, $1.6-billion aluminum-rolling mill in Ashland, Kentucky—good for a projected 600 high-paying jobs beginning in 2019—he asked Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin for “a favor:” have the state develop a new, two-year materials-science and metallurgy degree that could be awarded in Ashland. Its initial class of 140 students is in its first year of instruction.
Metova, a cybersecurity company based in Little Rock, Arkansas, has been able to enlist the University of West Florida and the University of Central Arkansas to help it develop a new program called the Florida Cyber Range that soon will begin churning out highly qualified technologists for high-security digital work that is often for the U.S. Department of Defense.

“We’ve found time and again that the practical application of the skills we need, coming out of existing college programs, is lacking,” explains CEO Josh Smith. “So our purpose is to create a more qualified workforce and certification paths that will actually create the workforce we need where no one else has been.”