As the economy and staffing needs change, the human resources (HR) and staffing industry in the Silver State has been working on creative solutions to keep up with new trends. Executives in HR and staffing recently met at the Las Vegas offices of City National Bank to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing their industries.
Connie Brennan, publisher and CEO of Nevada Business Magazine, served as moderator for the event. These monthly meetings are designed to bring leaders together to discuss issues relevant to their industries. Following is a condensed version of the roundtable discussion.
What challenges does Nevada’s labor market face?
DON SODERBERG: Statewide, [the unemployment rate] is in the 5 [percent range]. Up north, they’re at 4 percent, which at that point, you’re pretty much at full employment. We’re higher in the Las Vegas area, but not dramatically. The projection is the economy will be doing better. People are doing more things and are in a hiring mode. More people are doing transactions. You drive around and see buildings being remodeled and built. You’re seeing more economic activity so you’ve got more people looking for that same pie of people. What we find is this recession was so deep and so long that it changed a lot of things. Capable people don’t know how to look for work anymore. Everybody who was hiring downsized their HR operations. HR and hiring used to be a personal activity. You wanted to shine in your interview. They don’t have interviews anymore. You click the mouse 300 times and you float 300 resumes to things you might never get, then you don’t understand why nobody called you. On the hiring end, nobody wants to look at 300 resumes so you get a computer that will filter them out.
BETH FOSTER: One of the challenges is, sometimes the companies we work with really don’t understand our business. For the people who are not within the staffing industry, one of their solutions is to work with us. All staffing industries are different, however, when we’re building those really good relationships, our clients trust us. When a resume doesn’t really look right, but we understand what their needs are and we’ve earned their trust, we can explain why someone has had a gap. Or we can explain, yes, it looks like they’re overqualified but they’ll be good for this position. For the person outside of the staffing industry to build a relationship with us, that’s a huge solution to finding good people.
LAURA NOWLAN: For me, [the most challenging positions to fill are in] technology and healthcare. It’s been really difficult for me to even go into that. I tried to do that three years ago and closed down that division because it was not going to work. It’s really difficult to find people locally unless you’re going to be pulling them out from different states.
JEFF PARKER: Technology is definitely a challenge. Those people are not wanting to relocate to Las Vegas because there aren’t as many opportunities. In addition to that, we are competing with Austin and San Francisco and these mecca powerhouses. It’s very difficult to relocate those people into our area.
JASON BRUCKMAN: We’re recruiting for higher level positions, selling the market, talking about our education system out here and a lot of times those executives have young families. We have to be able to talk about the growing issue of education. I know we’re working on it as a whole within the community, but that’s a conversation we must have. That’s been a real challenge with some of those higher level positions. We’re certainly able to sell the cost of living from a tax perspective, but when we talk about the market as a whole when moving out here, it really comes down to education.
PAUL STOWELL: I’ve been in the banking industry for the last 32 years and this has been an opportunity for us with the economy coming back. City National is in a huge growth so we’re in a big hiring mode. Locally, last year, we hired about 12 new people. Bank-wide, we hired over 500 new people. This year, bank-wide, we’re hiring over 1,000 new people. Our greatest challenge right now is finding qualified bankers to fill those roles because we were a casualty to the downturn. A lot of bankers retired and left the industry, so finding qualified bankers today is our greatest challenge.
How can employers improve the hiring process?
BRUCKMAN: Something my team and I have been seeing is onboarding. With everyone being so busy and companies growing quickly, when they hire, that’s only the first part of the equation. The second part is to have a great onboarding program. We have lost candidates that have started at accounts because they were too busy to go through the proper onboarding program. They’ll sit there and they won’t have any direction. I think it’s critical to have onboarding set up, make candidates feel welcome when they start, show them what their responsibilities are going to be so they have clear direction once they start and they’re not in no man’s land for the first couple weeks.
JENNIFER DEHAVEN: And give them appropriate training so that they can be successful in their position no matter what it is. A lot of us are in everything from light industrial to manufacturing and distribution centers, which are sometimes less skilled positions, up to very skilled positions within those industries as well. Make sure, no matter what position, they’re given the appropriate amount of training.
BILL ROSADO: From our perspective, there are two parts to onboarding. It’s carrying the culture of the company and the transactional part. The transactional part is easier to do, especially if you have the right HRIS (human resource information systems) or you’re managing the work flows, what forms they have to fill out, reviewing their handbooks, I-9s, W-4s and all of those transactional pieces. But really, the culture of the company [is important to onboarding]. It’s the time that is taken that began in the interview process and the recruiting process, but continues with assimilating that person into the work flow. Different companies have different cultures. We try to ask our clients to describe for us what their culture is. If it were a picture or movie, what would that look like and making sure that’s communicated to the employee. It helps retain and makes sure the expectations are set in the very beginning.
How are generational differences affecting hiring strategies?
STOWELL: With the millennials today, the challenge is the turnover and training them. You invest those dollars to train them and they’re just going to find the next gig. These millennials come in and their movement is anywhere form six to nine months and they’re moving on.
HARTLEB: I hesitate to group all people in that age range with these characteristics. There’s a lot going on about generational diversity. I think we, as employers, probably need to change our approach. There’s been many articles written as of late and people are really changing the way they work. They want more flexibility, to create their own schedules and work from home. They’ve done the studies and people are much more productive that way. I understand that not every position lends itself to that. But where it does, employers can be more flexible in that approach or even in the interviewing and pre-screening process and really ask those key questions to determine whether this person is going to be a good fit. What can you adapt in your training program so millennials aren’t getting bored? That’s the feedback that I’m hearing. They don’t want the classic nine to five job anymore. The new generation isn’t so much focused on having to make more money and having to climb the ladder.
PARKER: You’re exactly right. It’s about engagement and acknowledging the revolution in the workplace right now. Not every job is going to require a time clock to be punched. If we, as executives, can step away from those traditional models and look how we can transform our work places, everyone is going to benefit. I believe that some of these things are being brought to the table currently by younger workers or even, in some cases, semi-retired workers who want more flexibility as well. These are things that are reasonable and can enhance a company and also help the families and individuals. Part of our education problem is that parents have not been engaged in education. Giving them the opportunity to have flexibility to take care of their kids and get them to school, that’s one of the issues I see in education. The training you’re providing is something that people are going to want and it’s a great part of your company culture. How can we make lateral positions for them and do more teamwork and development? It’s not always about throwing a big party or wearing sweats to work.
How are wages affecting employment?
FOSTER: The biggest challenge is the pay rates and having those tough but delicate conversations with our partners to let them know we’ve really got to increase the pay rates. There’s a lot of different avenues and creative ways we can find people, but we’re not going to be able to do it unless we are really increasing those rates. I think there’s a little bit of a misconception that the cost of living in Las Vegas is not quite as high as it actually is. Yes, housing is cheaper here than it is in certain parts of the country. But at the same time, it’s not inexpensive. The downturn in the economy changed things a lot.
SODERBERG: We’ll see that change over time. We’re already seeing wages going up. We’re seeing employers being more competitive and doing things they haven’t done in 10 years like looking for ways to retain their good employees and finding a way to train them or have them move up as opposed to just churning them through because that was the most efficient thing to do at the time. Employers are now looking at how the economy is different, but the bottom end of the pay scale is still pretty low.
HARTLEB: We’re going to see changes at the federal level. Most people I talk to are in agreement that we need to pay a bit more. Maybe we don’t do it drastically because people just can’t afford to do that, but I think the staggered approach makes sense. Maybe it’s not as high as $15 per hour, but I also think we need to look at cost of living. It’s not dirt cheap here. Our housing costs are going up. If we want a booming economy, those things are naturally going to come up. I’ve seen predictions where they expect another population influx. That may also bring some great talent with it, but these people are also going to expect to be paid more.
How will minimum wage increases affect staffing in Nevada?
NOWLAN: If minimum wage goes up, my argument is why would I pay someone a minimum of $14 per hour when they have no high school education? The minimal I’m willing to pay anybody is $9 an hour. Even that’s difficult. I say no to many companies. I can’t find myself paying anybody less than $9 an hour. At the same time, there’s no way I’m going to pay people $14 an hour that have no education whatsoever. It’s difficult.
DEHAVEN: The good news is it’s going to be staggered if it passes, so it’s not going to happen overnight and you’re suddenly stuck paying $14 per hour. I know there’s a couple bills out there right now. One’s at 75 cents [increase] every year that will get us up to $11 or $12 per hour minimum, depending on if the company is offering insurance or not. The other is $1.25 [increase] an hour and that’s the $14 or $15 we’re talking about. We went through this years ago when we had the staggering increases of minimum wage. It was over a period of years as well as we got up to the $8.25 level.
PARKER: It’s sometimes difficult to swallow paying someone $14 or $15 per hour who doesn’t even have a GED. Then you do have the trickle up of the people who are making $14 now have to get paid $18, $19 or $20. In a hospitality town such as Las Vegas, what I predict will happen is we’ll see prices increase with car rentals, hotel rooms and things of that nature. But I have to go back to poverty and education and how people who are making $24,000 per year cannot afford to keep their children in school successfully. They can’t clothe them. They can’t provide them with enough school supplies. We end up paying for it somewhere.
What HR solutions are available for employers?
HARTLEB: One of the things I’ve done and some of my clients have done is eliminated paid time off and vacation policies. You basically manage expectations and goals and deadlines. I tested it myself with my own staff and it’s worked very well. It’s one of those competitive advantages that a lot of other employers can’t compete with. Basically, if you have a doctor’s appointment or if you need to take Thursday off, I don’t really care. I don’t really care if you’re working at three o’clock in the morning. Just stick to the deadlines and get the job done. Again, it doesn’t lend itself to all positions. But when you get into mid-level or higher level, providing more flexibility and that trust to manage the workload, manage time and get the work done, don’t worry about punching the clock. I think that has really helped.
ROSADO: The [employee] handbook can be problematic as well as a good tool. HR professionals should be reviewing those handbooks annually and making sure any changes or updates are applied. There are things going on today that need to be addressed. Depending on how old somebody’s handbook is, if it’s not being reviewed each year, they’re pretty much set up to fail when they don’t look at those things.
PARKER: The constant changing of legislation, globalization and millennials are impacting not only what we’re doing in recruitment, but also in the workplace. Everything in HR has changed whether it is legal or technology. The one thing that hasn’t changed is what the staffing industry is doing. We have evolved in providing more programs and managed service providers and things of that nature, but if we’re going to compete in what I feel is the revolution of the workplace that’s taking place right now, we all really need to change and embrace some of these things that are challenges to us.
What can we expect moving forward?
SODERBERG: We are on the tip of the iceberg for some of these things we’ve been reading about. When I go up north, I sit with Mike [Kazmierski] at EDAWN. One time we were having lunch and he pulled a napkin out and said, “Don, this is my problem.” He wrote a five digit number and said, “These are all the jobs we’ve brought in that haven’t even started hiring yet. They haven’t even broken ground.” There is a wave that’s coming because we’ve done such a good job with economic development and there’s a lot of business activity going on that is starting to make things happen. Some of that business activity isn’t turning into revenue yet. When that does, I think we’ll see more of an explosion.
STOWELL: We’re statewide. The challenge we find with some of our clients and board members in Northern Nevada with Tesla and Switch and those other big projects is not having enough qualified people to fill those positions. So they’re coming out of Silicon Valley and that creates a challenge. We’re opening these great companies, but yet we’re not employing Nevadans. People are coming from out-of-state because we don’t have the qualified workforce.
DEHAVEN: I also think the business groups here in Las Vegas recognize that education is key. Making sure the people we do have are getting the proper education for the jobs that are here and are coming in. So education in the school systems, but also training. All the business organizations that I’m involved with understand that is the number one challenge and also the goal. I’m seeing things happen improving our infrastructure and education.