Improve Lineup When Attracting And Retaining Talent

Improve Lineup When Attracting And Retaining Talent

By Brian O’Keeffe, Ed.D., SFO, CSBO
Asst. Supt./Business Operations
Wheaton CUSD 200

LeeAnn Taylor, CSBO
Asst. Supt./Finance & Business Operations
Hawthorn CCSD 73

Lisa Yefsky
Area Executive Vice President
Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

We think it would be fair to say that wages (actual pay) are typically a determining factor when a candidate is searching for or accepting a position. Changes in the labor force have a spotlight on wages post pandemic, but how can you use benefits to attract and retain quality candidates? In this article, we will take a quick look at labor market conditions (as of the Summer of 2023) and share with you some creative benefit solutions that have been used to attract and retain candidates.

Building Today’s Talent Roster
Looking for a qualified candidate to fill one or more openings? Well, good luck to you! More than three and a half years after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic (March 11, 2020), hiring continues to be a challenge for almost every employer in the United States. As of July 31, 2023, the number of job openings in the United States of America, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, was 8.827 million, marking the lowest level since March 2021 and falling below the market consensus of 9.465 million. It also represented the third consecutive month of decline in job openings. These numbers are moving in a positive direction, but 8.827 million job openings represent more than five percent of our participating civilian labor force of 168.049 million.

The unemployment rate reported by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics as of August 2023 was 3.8%, meaning 6.4 million people were determined to be unemployed as of August 2023. If you compare the number of unemployed to the total numbers of job openings, every unemployed individual as of August 2023 could be hired into an existing opening and we would still have close to 2.5 million open positions that would not be filled. To put this in perspective, there are enough open positions after taking into account of unemployed persons, to offer full-time work to every resident in Montana and Rhode Island. Imagine having enough job openings for every person who lived in your state! 

Sadly, these statistics are worse than pre-pandemic numbers reported in February of 2020. The unemployment rate in February of 2020 was 3.5%, with a total of 5.7 million people being reported as unemployed. So, it may be fair to say that the challenges that employers are seeing are not “new,” just magnified as society has moved beyond the pandemic and into lifestyles that, for some, have been altered by the pandemic.

Challenges of Creating the Perfect Team
The number of unemployed persons per job opening has been in a significant state of decline according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Back in July 2009, there were 6.5 unemployed persons per job opening. In October 2017, the number of unemployed persons per job opening was 1.0, meaning there was one unemployed person for every opening. As of August 2023, there were 0.725 unemployed persons per job opening, meaning that there is significantly less than one unemployed person for every job opening. Simply put, the demand for candidates in today’s market is outpacing the actual supply of available candidates, and this is before you take qualifications into account.

What does this mean for employers? There are many layers to this question that we will highlight below:

  • The Impact of the Pandemic >>> There appears to be a sense that the pool of candidates has not only thinned during/after the pandemic but also that it did so because of the effects of the pandemic. Are personal and family health decisions, political disagreements with local, state and federal mandates made during the pandemic factors in a shrinking candidate pool?
  • Candidates Have More Options >>> The more openings there are, the more choices a candidate has.
  • Compensation Has Changed >>> Candidates appear to have greater control over what they are expecting in terms of pay. Union/Negotiated contracts aside, candidates appear to have a greater opportunity to demand higher pay, especially in positions that were typically driven by minimum wage laws.
  • Location, Location, Location >>> This is similar to #2. The more openings there are, the more choices a candidate may have, especially closer to home.
  • Generations in the Workplace >>> Today’s workplace is incredibly diverse generationally, composed of up to five generations working together (Generation Z, Millennials, Generation X, Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation). How do employers attract and retain individuals who may have different viewpoints on life and different economic needs?
  • Industry Competition >>> With rising wages across many sectors, competition for candidates appears to no longer be sector driven. For example, if a candidate can make $15.00 per hour as a special ed paraprofessional or make the same money in an entry retail position, what would convince the candidate that working with children who have special needs is a better opportunity?

Regardless of the reason(s), employers from all sectors are competing for a workforce that is not only shrinking in size, but also being more selective as to whom they would like to work for. How does an employer attract and retain candidates? We will share some creative benefit solutions (bargained and non-bargained) below. 

Setting Apart to Get Ahead in the Game
How do school districts set themselves apart from other employers and attract quality candidates?

Listen. What are your hiring or offer denial patterns? It’s important to institute both formal and informal systems to collect data. HR Departments that track how many positions were offered vs. how many were accepted can use this data to inform hiring practices. Collecting this type of information can also guide future contract negotiations with the collective bargaining unit. Data collected by a PreK-8 district in the northwest suburbs of Chicago yielded tuition reimbursement and mentor program inquiries among the most common, regarding benefit questions.   

Be as flexible as possible. Realizing that the majority of school employees are in a bargaining unit, flexibility is sometimes difficult regarding work conditions, length of day and calendar. However, if nothing else, COVID has allowed school personnel to master the use of virtual communication tools, such as Zoom, Teams or Google Meet. Workshops, training and other professional tasks that may take place virtually could provide the venue and flexibility for licensed staff to work from home on Institute Days. Consider providing non-licensed employees that are not in the bargaining unit, most commonly district office employees, the opportunity to work from home, work part time or work four 10-hour days. Districts that consider this level of flexibility must in turn shape the office culture to accept different working conditions for employees. Although fostering this type of working environment may be difficult at first, these employment practices could yield more candidates for hard to fill positions, such as, payroll.  

Meaningful onboarding. The old saying “they are interviewing us as much as we are interviewing them” could not be more true during a time when candidate pools are slim and openings are prevalent. A warm and welcoming tone in all communication from the moment a candidate is contacted for the interview goes a long way. There are multiple ways to ensure new staff feel included in the school community from the instant they are hired. Many districts have successfully instituted optional onboarding fairs over the summer to bring in staff that will start at the beginning of the school year. The purpose of these pre-employment functions is to distribute technology tools, introduce staff to key members of the district office staff, highlight the resources available on the staff intranet and allow time for informal conversation and questions. The same level of care and attention should be given to all new employees, not just licensed staff. It is also important to consider staff hiring that does not align with the start of the school year. It is unfortunate, but a reality, that many times these individuals feel isolated and uncertain of where to seek answers to key questions.  

Tell them and tell them again. Now that the TRS Supplemental Savings Plan is live and automatic enrollment occurs for active TRS members first employed in a TRS-covered position after January 1, 2023, district onboarding teams must be vigilant in how they approach this topic with new hires. Education is key in ensuring that newly licensed staff understand how this auto-enrollment impacts their net pay. Taking time to proactively discuss supplemental savings options with staff through a variety of venues will limit frustration and allow employees to consider the option that is best for their current financial situation and future planning.     
Mentoring is key. As mentioned earlier, candidates are asking specific questions about mentoring programs at the time they are considering a district’s employment offer. There are various ways districts implement a successful program that helps guide and support new staff while highlighting the professionalism and expertise of experienced teachers. Maintaining a program that is both flexible and accessible to new staff is key. Just-in-time mentoring and venues to seek guidance will deflate feelings of isolation for new staff. 

Related Articles