Spanning all industry sectors and ranging from entry-level to highly skilled, business owners and executives across the board are having a hard time finding employees. With several factors at play, from massive changes to the way people work to COVID-era retirees and people not coming back into the workforce after layoffs, this is not an easy problem to solve.
As decision makers look for answers to the workforce puzzle, Nevada Business Magazine recently hosted a Business First panel with experts qualified to address staffing issues. Showcasing a range of expertise, from compliance issues to legal, human resources and hiring, these experts sat down in early-June at Proprietor’s Reserve to offer their thoughts on these challenges. Business First breakfasts are designed to educate and inform readers while allowing them the opportunity to network and hear from experts in person. After covering a variety of workforce topics, panelists took audience questions and stayed after to meet with attendees, one-on-one.
The Business First workforce panel was moderated by Connie Brennan, publisher and CEO of Nevada Business Magazine. In addition to Brennan, four experts offered their insights. Shannon Hiller, chief marketing officer of Clark County Credit Union works closely with the financial firm’s human resource team to ensure company culture and hiring best practices are observed. Dr. James McCoy, chief academic officer and vice president of academic affairs with the College of Southern Nevada is responsible for helping the college create programs and turn out graduates to fill workforce gaps. Attorney Swen Prior, a partner with Snell & Wilmer, has a practice focused on defending employers in the firm’s labor and employment group. And, Carolyn Spoletini, a partner with ManagedPay has over 20 years of human resources experience and particular expertise in compliance issues
Each panelist brought a unique perspective to this comprehensive issue and presented tips and tricks to business owners and executives on the best ways to hire, train and, if necessary, fire an employee.
In any review, managers and employees sit down and look at areas that need improvement and those that are showing improvement. Because, before knowing how to do something better it’s important to realize any failures that may be present and recognize what is going well. The same is true when it comes to hiring and managing employees.
“It’s hard to hire right now,” said McCoy. “I think one of the most common mistakes, especially since we’re all so busy is [in the onboarding]. We spend an hour, or two or three, engaged in that onboarding experience, throw the keys at them and say, ‘There’s your computer, there’s your office. Don’t break the place.’ And we just let them go. That’s a common mistake that I’ve had to own – not taking the time to onboard and provide resources to employees to have increased retention.”
Hiller added that process could start even earlier than onboarding. As a retention tool, she stressed the importance of gaining a full picture of who someone is, prior to having them join the team. “I think some people have been dissatisfied once they’ve been hired because we didn’t help them get where they wanted to go,” she said. “[It’s vital we] find out their motivation, what inspires them, what they want to become and how to get them there.”
“The maxim ‘Hire Slow, Terminate Fast’ – I’m a fan of that,” said Prior. “It’s not about taking a long process, it’s [about] hiring with intention. Think about it. Lay the groundwork of what you’re looking for. Too often we’ll dust off an old job description that doesn’t even apply. Be deliberate, look for a cultural fit.”
Spoletini added that transparency with potential hires is important. “From the onset of the interview process, you will build a better rapport with candidates by being more candid,” she said. “A lot of [business owners] are now saying, ‘We’ve seen a lot of change, how do we want our business to look? How do we want to grow team members and move things forward?’ That becomes very collaborative from the moment a candidate walks through the door.”
Prior agreed and said part of the collaborative process is looking at potential candidates holistically rather than those that just check certain boxes. “Too often I’ve seen employers who just want to hire for the school or if they have this or that GPA,” he said. “Honestly, I think they’re missing the boat. A lot of people are qualified to perform a job, but can they work in that environment? Can they work with those individuals? Good workers, good character and the ability to work in a team environment trumps [qualifications]. A cultural fit is very important.”
COVID changed the way business is done, seemingly overnight. Work from home, hybrid schedules and virtual team calls were relatively rare pre-COVID; they’re commonplace now. With new ways of working comes new challenges and opportunities.
In particular, the pandemic, which shut the world down in March 2020, changed the way employees work and learn. “It seems just like yesterday,” said McCoy. “We had about 40,000 students engaged in instruction. Our instruction, over the course of a couple of days, went from an in-person experience, with heavy clinical, laboratory or simulation experiences, [to online]. These [classes] require tactical in-person engagement and, all of a sudden, we were 40,000 students strong in the online campus. When our faculty and employees began to recognize that the delivery of instruction, meeting students in their home office, [still allowed them] to ensure quality, we really learned a lot.”
There are also important legal implications for work from home said Prior, “What happens if someone injures themselves at their work office?” he asked. Along those same lines, how do employers even track the amount of work being done at home? “Before COVID, employees were taking technology to another level by monitoring employee’s email and all these different things, but that has escalated tremendously,” said Prior. “These are just some of the tips of the iceberg of what COVID has done, we’ll see changes in the workplace for years to come.”
Changes in physical space is another area of consideration as workforce trends shift. “Different scenarios are going to dictate the workspace,” said Spoletini. She added that hybrid work existed pre-COVID but the pandemic, “exacerbated and brought it to the forefront. We are going to see a big shift in the real estate markets and that is going to drive how employers are running their business. These are evolving things that continue to be the nature of our business.”
Areas for Growth
With these various challenges come tremendous opportunities for an employer to rethink their offices, culture and practices. “We’re using [COVID] as an impetus for reimagining, or not, the workplace environment,” said McCoy. “We’ve been stuck, oftentimes, in the industrial revolution of eight to five, clock in, clock out, show your face, accountability. But this COVID environment taught us [another way]. If the job lends itself to online and the accountability is there, we ought to jump on that.”
Hiller added that COVID, “opened everyone’s eyes to how productive we can be. And gas prices haven’t hurt the matter much when we look at having to commute across town. It’s easier for our employees. We’ve seen increases in productivity, and I’ve seen zero decreases in my team’s productivity.”
According to the experts, remote or hybrid work is also a great incentive when hiring and can be a strong retention tool. “We’re all having difficulty hiring,” said Hiller. “Let’s see if they can work remotely. This is an opportunity for us to get great candidates in, help each other out with our crazy schedules and find out what employees need.”
While most employees love remote or hybrid work, there are still significant challenges for employers. One of the biggest of those challenges is maintaining a strong corporate culture when team members are scattered. “Communication has to be there,” said Hiller. “We’ve had to be creative. It’s an opportunity, if we take it, to have increased communication. If the communication is not there, it would be difficult for a new person. That’s why we require three months of in person training to get to know everyone and we have regular one on one check-ins once a month.”
“That’s key,” agreed Spoletini. “If you’ve got somebody new, it’s extremely important they come in and build rapport with team members. If you hire them directly into a remote position, it’s more of a struggle.”
However, before an employer deals with any of these challenges, they need people to employ. According to this month’s “Business Indicators” (page 69), Nevada’s April unemployment rate was steady at just 5 percent. According to economists, this means employment is at, or very close to, full capacity. With such a tight labor market, employers find themselves getting creative when looking for employees. The question on everyone’s mind is, how do you find good people?
“We’re competing all over the US, potentially even globally, for some of the positions that are out there,” said Spoletini. “We lost over 3 million in our workforce. When all the employers are saying, ‘Why am I having such a difficult time and how do I retain people?’, we have to look at that.”
One way to find good employees, is to grow and train them for the jobs they’re needed in. “When you think about higher education, you think about training, development and workforce,” explained McCoy. “Our piece of that is to make sure you’ve got a pipeline of the workforce potential. We need to make sure we’re partnering with the businesses in this room to ensure we’re creating and producing curriculum that matches the outcomes for the employee base.”
Beyond training, when employers are on the hunt, Hiller recommends making sure job descriptions are accurate and engaging to potential employees. “The job description and posting is a great opportunity to start communicating the brand of your company,” she explained. “Team up with communications because showing how you’re different and how [a potential employee] will fit in with the brand is huge. That’s how I got into recruiting; we were marketing to candidates.”
When in Doubt, See the Handbook
The final piece of the workforce puzzle, after hiring, training and retention, is managing employees. This is one of the trickiest aspects for employers, and one Prior said is rife with potential pitfalls. “Employers are consistently being more responsible for their employees,” he said. “And right now, employers are looking to hire people, so employees have a lot of leverage. Employers are throwing all sorts of money and benefits, just to try and [compete] but I caution them to act with intention. If an employer acts with intention, laws can help defend. To avoid litigation, [I recommend] consistency and documentation.”
“Your job descriptions and your employee handbook are the two key things for your employees,” Spoletini added. “They are setting the stage for what the working environment is going to look like. Please revisit and update your handbooks, it’s absolutely imperative.”
Prior added that sometimes his clients don’t want to have a handbook, and that can be detrimental. “The reason they gave that they don’t like to use handbooks and policies is because they want to be more flexible. That is destined for problems. There are certain rules you want to lay out before you get on the road.”
He went on to add that there are three primary purposes for a handbook. To relay the culture of the company and to let employees and management know what is expected. “There’s processes and procedures but it also gives the management team a defense, so they don’t have to be the bad guy,” Prior said.
Spoletini concluded that it’s never a good idea for employers to operate in a silo on workforce issues. “It’s really about having the right advisors in place,” she said. “You can be that small business owner who’s trying to do the right thing and almost be a little bit of everything to everyone. But as long as you have the right team in place to give you the support you need, you will continue to do the right thing and you will continue to be successful.”