Finding the right job applicants and hiring the hourly workforce has always been a battle. And after more than a year of living under COVID restrictions, nearly every aspect of our business lives has been transformed. But now, as cities across the US are finally lifting most (if not all) restrictions due in large part to expanding vaccination rates – coupled with the return of warm weather and a resurgent economy – the main challenge today is finding and retaining hourly workers.
There’s no other way to put it: we’re witnessing a severe scarcity of job applicants, which is cause for massive concern considering that economists are projecting as many as 10 million new jobs added by the end of this year (and that 55.5% of America’s labor force – 73.3 million according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics–is made up of hourly employees). For instance, the National Restaurant Association recently reported that staffing at full-service restaurants remains down by a full 20%. And, a recent National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) found that 42% of owners have openings they are unable to fill.
How bad is it? A McDonald’s in Florida is paying people $50 just for showing up for an interview, TAG Restaurant Group in Denver is paying a signing bonus – $500 for hourly workers and $1,000 for managers that stay 90 days, Chipotle is offering debt-free degrees to its hourly employees, and Target and Costco have raised their minimum wage to $15/hour.
So what’s going on? How can there be so many unemployed workers, yet so many unfilled jobs? A number of recent articles offered the following compelling insights that more broadly examined what’s happening in the market and contributing to the current hourly workers shortage:
- Generous unemployment benefits rival hourly pay.
- Covid health concerns discourage potential employees from returning to work.
- At-home child and elderly care is still needed.
- Candidates are holding out for higher wages.
- Switching industries and careers.
- The gig mindset and desire for flexible work schedules.
This is a perfect storm, exacerbated by the fact that service industry businesses around the country are all ramping back up at the same time. The reality is, employers whose businesses depend heavily upon hourly workers must be more agile than ever and be willing to adapt their recruiting and retention strategies, now. Fortunately, with the right talent management tech stack that supports very specific best practices, you can position yourself and your business for success. Below are some of the immediate measures you can take to attract, engage, hire, and retain talent during this unprecedented people crisis.
Promote your employer brand and culture. We’ve been hearing about the importance of employer brand for years now but it’s never been more paramount than today in attracting and engaging talent. Your career pages, campaigns, and job descriptions must clearly articulate the steps you’re taking to create a safe and healthy work environment, that you offer flexible work schedules, details of any special compensation/ benefits incentives, information about training and development programs, and your commitment to social responsibility and diversity and inclusion. Incorporate video testimonials from your leadership, store managers, and employees, and think about creating a micro-site for each store location to really personalize the job seeker experience. The bottom line, be sure to tell your story, your mission, and what sets you apart as employer of choice.
Deliver an applicant experience built on speed and communication. There’s no way around it, this is a candidate’s market. It’s crucial that you remove any potential friction from the application and hiring experience, as today’s job seeker will abandon the application and ghost interviews knowing they have an overabundance of options. Implementing a “fast” application that doesn’t require account creation, offering a text apply option to meet today’s mobile preference, leveraging a simple yet effective assessment, and automating the interview scheduling process are all key ingredients to beating your competitors to the punch. On top of this, communicating via SMS Text with your applicants in real-time throughout the process will keep them engaged and help streamline screening, interviewing, offers, and onboarding.
Tap your employees and talent community. The best applicant sources in today’s climate are right in front of you – employee referrals and talent community. It’s time to get bold and creative with employee referral programs aimed at turning your employees into recruiting ambassadors. Leverage campaign pages to advertise details/incentives (right down to the location level) and make it easy for employees to share job opportunities with their friends and family members via email and social media. This is a resource that you simply can’t afford to leave untapped. The same holds true for talent community outreach. Create compelling, branded email and SMS Text campaigns targeted at past job applicants and former employees that live in your CRM, encouraging them to apply/reapply for your open positions. These high-value, low-cost channels can help reduce your job advertising spend, which for many service industry businesses is becoming unsustainable.
Focus on retention. Keeping the employees you currently have is more crucial than ever. This requires that you optimize the employee experience at every stage across their journey and meet their post-pandemic requirements such as flexible schedules. Implementing an effective, digitized onboarding process is the tip of the spear and must incorporate COVID safety protocols, job training, and immersion into your culture. Post onboarding, you’ll want to ensure you’re delivering continuous communication and recognition to your employees, including making sure they know how their efforts and performance are impacting the success of the business. In addition, you’ll want to create an internal careers page to ensure your current employees are kept informed of opportunities for career advancement. With the skills shortage (including a growing market gap in managerial experience), it’s crucial that you develop internal talent to fill these roles. Of course, you’ll need to give serious consideration to your compensation and incentive plans to ensure you stay competitive in this emerging wage war.
Adopting a multipronged recruiting and retention strategy that consists of these elements will undoubtedly help you to compete more effectively within these incredibly complex market conditions and net more job applicants. And, the time is now because, according to Moody’s Analytics and CNN Business “Back-to-Normal Index”, the economy is at 88% of its pre-pandemic “normal” (of 100%). And this positive trajectory is sure to continue.