In the wake of labor shortages, employers need new strategies to attract talent ‘and really utilize everything available’

August 1, 2021

The dilemma Virginia employers are facing in finding employees is a real and imminent threat to economic recovery and the success of a business.

Recently while traveling to Lynchburg on a Sunday morning, an IHOP restaurant was barely half full with customers. There was a “Now Hiring” sign out front.

Yet inside, there was a 1 ½ hour wait until the restaurant decided to just turn customers away.

It’s unclear where all the workers have gone. The question remains how to get them back.

Representatives from a few local businesses that are experiencing similar staffing and hiring problems provided some thoughts on strategies they are using and suggestions they have on finding workers.

“Recruiting qualified talent is one of the biggest challenges our company is facing today,” said Jennifer Lee, human resources manager for the Haley Auto Group.

The dealership is currently providing signing and referral bonuses, using industry-specific recruiters and posting ads on multiple job and social media websites to entice new applicants to apply. “With all these sources, we are still falling short,” Lee said.

DeAnna Willis, director of human resources at the Hilton Richmond Downtown, said her HR peers are experiencing the same thing. She notes that the hiring crisis is the most unusual period in her 25 years of HR experience.

“We are in the midst of a staffing shortage across the country,” she said.

The lack of workers means the hotel can’t book rooms for guests because it doesn’t have enough workers to clean the rooms. The hotel also can’t get the supplies needed like linens and other essentials.

Willis said the hotel is “literally trying everything” to hire and retain workers, such as raising pay, offering sign-on bonuses and increasing referral bonuses.

These measures have a trickle-down effect because the hotel cannot overlook the current staff. The hotel is also implementing wage adjustments and other fringe benefits to try and keep those workers on board, such as offering complimentary lunches, parking and coffee.

“In this market, you cannot be passive. You have to recruit aggressively and really utilize everything available to you,” Willis said.

Most importantly, she said employers need to be make the application and hiring process “quick and easy” for the applicant.

Willis has found the most success by reaching out to candidates via Indeed and ZipRecruiter and asking candidates to apply for the hotel’s open jobs.

She believes using tools including clickable Bitly links or QR codes have been very helpful to speed up the process and keep the attention on the applicants. She also suggests keeping job postings updated and refreshed because businesses only have a short window to keep the applicant engaged and interested.

Hiring people is only half the battle. Because there are so many jobs available, candidates may accept your offer, go through the background screening process and then never show up on the first day.

Or the newly hired employee may start and last only a day or a week before the person leaves without notice and accepts another job from a hotel or other business paying more.

“Recruiting candidates and retaining employees continues to be a challenge in the post-COVID world. We, like many of our industry counterparts, continue to see a shortage of applicants for a variety of positions,” said Jessica Ham, human resources director for the local Servpro franchise operator.

Servpro has implemented a strategy to attract candidates and retain employees by focusing on “building careers, rather than just providing a paycheck.”

She said Servpro offers long-term stability while allowing employees to do meaningful work within the community and helping those affected by a loss put their lives back together. Having a mission-based career focus, she believes, will yield the employment results the company needs.

Whatever the industry, employers need a new and fresh strategy, which should include a quick and easy application process and recruitment period. Some are even removing the process of running a background check because this can cause a delay.

For example, a local 17-year-old applied for a job online at Starbucks. She heard nothing. She then went into the store and told them she applied for the job and asked if they had any questions. She was hired on the spot and started the next day.

There is a likelihood that bringing back open walk-in application times with immediate interviews will be the future of work for some period of time. HR systems that are flooded with applications seem to cause a lag that cannot be accommodated in this market.

While employers are desperate for workers, they still need to maintain their values and focus on customer service and not lowering their standards. This puts the burden on managers to set expectations early.