How to attract, evaluate, and retain non-traditional applicants

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Mike Rodis, retired CHRO of Sunrise Senior Living and member of Arena Analytics‘ Advisory Board, led a ZoomRoom on “Leveraging Pandemic-Related Unemployment.” [Argentum’s Senior Living Executive Conference, 9-24-20]

“Covid-19 has been the catalyst for many changes in the marketplace and the workplace,” said Mike Rodis, kicking off the conversation. “The impact on unemployment rates has been devastating and ongoing. However, this dislocation of workers from their career paths in hospitality and retail could provide an opportunity for both the recently unemployed and the senior living industry.”

In a recent peer-to-peer conversation hosted by Argentum’s Senior Living Executive Conference, Mike Rodis and operational leaders discussed challenges, best practices, and ideas to welcome people from the hospitality and retail sector into Senior Living jobs. These individuals could potentially find that their interests in service, dining, and operations could lead to rewarding careers in an industry that they had not previously considered.

The Status of our Workforce Today

The Senior Living and Healthcare sectors have struggled with worker shortages and turnover for years. In the past 9 months, largely due to Covid-19, turnover has increased 10-12% according to different metrics. However, these industries are expected to grow and require even more dedicated employees as the U.S. population ages and needs these services at increasing rates.

The Department of Labor (DoL) indicated that 13.7 million people filed unemployment claims in August. In July, the DoL reported that 31.8 million people were receiving unemployment benefits. 800,700 filed for unemployment in the past week. Of those who are filing for unemployment, the DoL estimates that 30% are former hospitality or retail employees. These workers may currently be looking for jobs – but are they looking at the job postings of senior living and healthcare organizations?

How do we find non-traditional applicants?

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“Job boards surface search results based on selected roles/positions and industries,” explains Mike. “If individuals are not specifically indicating an interest in a caregiver role or a position in an assisted living community, they may never encounter our job postings.”

Tina Reed, the Regional Operations Manager at Life Care Services, described some success in reaching out to local restaurants and hospitality businesses to ask, ‘Do you have anyone you would recommend to us?’

These local efforts were echoed by other operational leaders with positive results. Businesses that were in the unfortunate position of laying off workers were happy to help their former employees land jobs in appreciative, supportive communities.

Scalable strategies were more elusive. Facebook advertising did not yield many candidates. Arena Analytics experimented with social media platforms to support their candidate recruitment marketing for senior living clients, and also concluded that these were not cost-efficient or effective.

Referral-based approaches seemed more successful, although they varied significantly from location to location. Michelle Minor, Vice President of Operations at Sunrise Senior Living noted that Florida locations, for example, were benefitting more than other locations from referral-based programs. David Gardner added the advice to provide tools to employees that make it easy for them to broadcast company openings to their social networks.

Megan from JobAlign described a technology that streamlines the application process tremendously, “One thing that we’ve seen work is using a text-to-apply code and putting it on the back of a business card and giving it to your employees to give to their friends.”

Arena Analytics is focused on forming strong partnerships with organizations who provide services to individuals who may be looking for work and who have the potential to be committed to careers in healthcare and senior living. Organizations such as Goodwill, YearUp, SkillUp, Onward and others can find talent before they seek and find jobs elsewhere. Arena partners with these and other organizations and educational institutions in order to apply its data analytics to candidates, employers and the labor market. Through its Talent Discovery platform, Arena then matches applicants to jobs where they will thrive.

How do we attract non-traditional applicants?

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In recent weeks and moving forward, several key industries are increasing their search for hourly workers. Their recruitment marketing efforts include multiple mailers, online advertising, and notices at locations frequently visited by the general public. InstaCart intends to hire 300,000 before 2021. Walmart intends to hire 150,000 by 2021. Amazon intends to hire 100,000 before 2021. CVS and Dollar General are each looking for 50,000 people. Ace Hardware, Pizza Hut,  7/11, Papa Johns, and others have all stated they seek over 30,000 new employees. How can Senior Living compete with these aggressive efforts?

“Are you doing anything to improve upon your employment branding proposition, anything that helps you to attract people in a global sense?” Mike asked.

“In our Facebook campaign, we’ve made our appeal more friendly, more enticing…our campaign is “We’re now hiring heroes.” And we’re bringing a Call to Action for people who want to serve, vs. just putting a job posting out on Indeed,” explained Tina. “And we’re looking at the job postings that are out there to make sure we are making our positions attractive.”

Mike Rodis also encouraged operators to reach out to younger folks – students still in high school – to plant the seed of career opportunities in senior living. Arena has found that a significant number of candidates they matched to jobs this summer were recent high school graduates. Their plans to work hospitality or retail jobs while attending community college have been put on hold and they are, instead, enrolled in an online course or two and happy to start exploring a career in senior living.

How do we treat applicants?

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As described in greater detail in Arena’s analysis of common HR mistakes, employers need to address the candidate experience or they risk losing potentially wonderful applicants prior to the interview stage. Job candidates on Indeed have reviewed senior living providers with generally negative feedback – these are candidate reviews, not employee reviews. This means the application and candidate communication processes could be improved upon.

Responding to candidates promptly is essential. If not personally, then at least set up responses through an email auto-respond or ATS-directed email-automation.

Provide a straightforward, efficient application process without long, old-school assessments. Be careful with the modern bells and whistles you add on to the application process. For example, AI-analyzed, robot video interviews – without a human listening and asking questions on the other side – have been negatively perceived across multiple industries.

Any technology that is part of your candidate experience should be able to provide accurate traffic reports. Prior to implementing any of these experiences, validate the drop-off and completion rates. For example, Arena can report questionnaire completion rates between 90-97%, and more specific rates for industry, job category, and job role.

How do we evaluate non-traditional applicants?

Candidates who have never worked in a senior living community or in a healthcare context, may be excellent and committed team members. But without the ‘previous job experience’ bullet point at their disposal, many talent acquisition and hiring managers are uncertain how to make a data-driven decision.

“One of the ways that we started looking at those non-traditional applicants was asking behavioral-based questions,” said Michelle Minor. “And throwing in some empathy questions which we found to be very insightful for those who haven’t done a lot of senior care.”

“One of the things that I think is helpful in this process is the use of predictive analytics,” said Mike. “I can tell you personally that the use of predictive analytics had a huge impact at Sunrise. Whether optimizing for resident care or employee retention, data analysis helps give you additional information to guide your hiring and operational decisions.”

Predictive analytics refers to a variety of statistical techniques and, when coupled with machine learning, can “generate future insights with a significant degree of precision.

Healthcare organizations use predictive analytics in several different ways, including intelligently allocating facility resources based on past trends, optimizing staff schedules, identifying patients at risk for a costly near-term readmission and adding intelligence to pharmaceutical and supply acquisition and management.

“What is predictive analytics? Transforming data into future insights,” CIO .com

How do we retain non-traditional applicants?

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Once the candidate is hired – assuming the right hire was made – retention efforts must go beyond the usual focus on training and onboarding. Predictive analytics like Arena’s can lengthen new hire retention beyond existing averages, but meaningful retention beyond the first two years requires career pathing.

This last question is for another time and another event. The above clip from a job posting presents an interesting concept – career pathways within a traditionally-flat profession. If we can reward workers who develop expertise and remain in the important frontline positions where they are needed most, we can provide long-term fulfilling careers to the majority of our workforce.

Some individuals may wish to branch out to management and other positions, and leadership development programs should be open to all. However, to truly thrive as an industry, we must find ways for our workers who interact with our residents and families every day to thrive.