By Mary LaFontaine, CareerCenter Manager
Everything we read continues to point in the same direction: New England has some of the oldest states in the nation and baby boomers dominate the labor force. The largest percent of the labor force is age 55 and over and fewer babies are born each year in New England. All of this data points to a shrinking "traditionally aged" labor pool.
So, what do you, as an employer, need to do to ensure that you have an effective and productive workforce?
Untapped Labor Pools
The first question I ask is: are you giving enough attention to applicants that might not come from your typical applicant pool?
Consider the following untapped groups:
- Non-traditionally-aged college students are graduating in high numbers. People went to school during the recession. Many of the recent grads lack direct work experience, but they have great transferable skills, recently learned knowledge and current industry training.
- Veterans, people with disabilities, refugees, and immigrants face a much higher unemployment rate; some say the unemployment rate for these groups can be higher than 50 percent.
- Semi-retired workers aged 60+ (and other applicants) may be attracted to your part-time positions or job sharing opportunities.
- People with criminal histories can be good options, assuming their criminal records are not related to your line of business. Some people in this applicant pool might also be eligible for bonding to ensure you don't face liabilities.
Too Many Unnecessary Requirements
Here are some questions to consider about the qualifications of your jobs.
- Could direct work experience be replaced with great skills? Recent graduates, veterans, and others who have great work experience are often being turned down for positions because they don't have "direct" experience. These potential workers have strong work-readiness skills and often have the desirable soft-skills of mature workers. They know the value of showing up on time, ready to work and learn. Businesses can teach job specific skills; however, it's difficult, if not impossible, to teach those much sought after soft skills.
- Does an applicant really need a post-secondary degree to perform a job or is that screening tool keeping otherwise qualified candidates from applying? Might a veteran or other highly-skilled applicant from another industry bring the sufficient skills to perform the job? We know these applicants can learn and be trained; they have proven that in their previous jobs.
- Do applicants really need to lift 75 pounds (or whatever the amount given) to perform the essential functions of a job? Might you be screening out highly competent women or older workers by having a weight lifting requirement that isn't true to the essential functions of the job?
- Is it necessary to have one person work 40 hours or can two people split the position? Job sharing options could fulfill your needs and those of your employees. It's time to start thinking more creatively about how you can fill your open positions while increasing your applicant pool.
- What level of English, reading, or math skills are required to truly perform the job duties? Again, are you screening out applicants unnecessarily?
- What about pre-employment assessments? Are your screening tools keeping otherwise qualified applicants from making it to the interview process? For a person whose first language is not English, most pre-employment assessments will likely screen them out even though they may be able to perform the essential functions of the job.
Responsive Local Companies
There is a wealth of creative New England companies that have taken a proactive path to respond to the changing workforce, including Proctor and Gamble, UNUM, and L.L.Bean to name just a few. What can you learn from these companies? They practice recruiting from the population pools that, on the surface, may appear to have more risk than benefit. What business arguments can you make to do the same?
Employers who have been practicing recruitment strategies to include more diverse applicant groups agree that hiring people from these applicant pools brings a workforce that is reliable, loyal and diverse. In doing so, they've discovered that their employment practices bring goodwill to the company and to the community. In addition, by hiring people from these targeted groups, productivity is likely to increase.
That leaves the ultimate question: what happens if we do nothing to address the changing labor force realities and do we really want to take that risk?
Your local career center can help you connect to resources and other businesses to help you reach your recruitment goals:
Ask the Writers
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Mary LaFontaine is a relationship builder extraordinaire! A manager with the Maine Department of Labor's CareerCenter for the past eight years, she also serves as a City Councilor for the City of Auburn, she teaches a course called "Finding Your Calling" at University of Southern Maine, L-A campus, and she is a board member at the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce. Mary holds a master's degree in adult education and an undergraduate degree in studio art. For more information, please check out the Lewiston CareerCenter website.