Abundance of candidates!! Easy to fill!! … yeah right!

Strategies for staffing hard to fill hourly jobs

The average person takes for granted that some hourly jobs are difficult-to-fill. Most of us just assume given the higher unemployment rates for lower level skill set positions, there is an abundance of candidates and these candidates are all just standing around waiting to get hired. Well, for many hourly jobs that is simply not the case. Just speak with some of the employers and the recruiters responsible for making these hires. According to the 2015 Manpower Talent Shortage Survey, the #1 reason why jobs are difficult-to-fill is ‘lack of available applicants’. Regardless of what we think in terms of the size of the available candidate pool, there appears to be a lack of ‘qualified’ traffic in filling some of these roles. The big question, is why?? We need to take some time in analyzing and digesting the data prior to jumping to an incorrect conclusion.   

Many hiring professionals naturally assume the lack of candidate traffic is a candidate sourcing problem. However, talent sourcing was a distant second in resolving difficult-to-fill positions according to the survey. We naturally assume the lack of traffic implies we are deploying the wrong candidate sourcing streams. We are not effectively contacting the targeted candidate universe. All we need to do is use additional and/or different candidate sourcing tools/strategies (i.e. job postings, advertising, billboards, etc.) and we will suddenly secure a different outcome. This may or may not be true. It may only be a partial solution. However, more of the same through different sourcing resources does not necessarily translate to more ‘qualified’ candidates and more hires. I always tell employers, “the candidate universe is the candidate universe”. You cannot miraculously make it bigger or different.

There are industries and positions where the demand for hourly talent exceeds the supply. A good example of this is truck drivers. According to the survey, truck drivers are the second most difficult-to-fill position in the U.S. and this is the tenth consecutive year on the Top 10 list. Ninety percent of the 1.2 million trucking carriers today are reporting difficulty in filling their open jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is one of the hottest and fastest growing occupations in the marketplace, projected to grow by 11% annually. Today, there over 9,000,000 truck drivers and shortage of over 111,000 which will grow to 239,000 by 2022. During this timeframe 192,600 new jobs will be created. Part of the shortage is caused by youth electing not to enter the field. The pay for a driver is considered low ranging from $300 to $1,200 per week. Plus, it is exempt from overtime pay. To many it is an unattractive occupation given the overnight travel and the numerous government regulations attached to the industry. Experienced drivers are retiring or migrating to other fields in other industries like construction. Those exiting the industry are outpacing the new people entering the field. The problem is further compounded by 92% turnover. This is especially true during the first 90 days of employment. Add government regulations which are limiting the hours of work and the result is an even greater need for more drivers to be recruited. According to the American Trucking Association, the industry is projected to grow by 30% over the next 10 years requiring 600,000 more trucks and a need for 100,000 new truck drivers each year in order to meet this increased demand. In order to become an 18 wheeler truck driver, one must be at least 18 years of age and hold a CDL license. However, most carriers will not hire a truck driver prior to reaching the age of 23 given their higher insurance premiums.

When we look at the above example, the obvious answer to the problem is the identification and contact with the targeted truck driver candidate universe. Or is it?? It certainly is part of the answer. Making a truck driver aware of your open positions is not the same as getting them engaged in your employment process. Truck drivers are being touched every day by multiple carriers with regard to new job opportunities.  As a result, they can literally go to work almost anywhere. Demand is grossly exceeding the supply. What about pay? Isn’t increasing the pay a key step in resolving this challenge? Can’t we attract more truck drivers by offering greater pay? The main struggle with raising pay is the fact the industry operates at a low profit margin (4.8%). There is not much wiggle room to pay drivers more while maintaining profitability. Also, the industry is very competitive; all firms will react the same way by raising their pay scale. This will only result in increased expense for all firms. By all firms reacting the same way, increasing pay in itself is not sustainable and will not result in a material change in the number of hires. However, it may help long term in attracting new people to the industry.

The bigger question might be, is this simply the cost of doing business in the trucking industry.  Something you just have to learn to deal with.  Is a shortage of talent along with high employee turnover simply the cost of doing business where nothing can be done to correct the problem? It is difficult to argue with firms who have been in the transportation/logistics field for a long time (i.e. UPS, FedEx, Roadway, etc.). Who should know better than these companies? I am confident they have explored many options and have experienced minimal success. So what do we do? Do we simply give up? Do we accept the struggle and operate with fewer drivers than required, contributing to even more employee turnover? It is a spiraling problem if left unattended.

What is the cost if left unattended? According to the Manpower Talent Shortage Survey:

  • Reduced competitiveness / productivity
  • Inability to serve clients
  • Increased employee turnover
  • Lower employee morale
  • Higher pay (cost)

The above scenario is not just limited to the trucking industry. There are numerous verticals and occupations experiencing a similar problem. For example, retail businesses have lived with a similar problem for years.  The work is considered undesirable by many and comes with relatively low pay. The occupation has minimal downtime, and many of the jobs are part time or seasonal. Much of the clientele tend to under value and under appreciate the work of a retail associate. These type of employees will not commute long distances. They simply cannot afford to. These retail roles also have a high attrition rate, often times greater than 100%. Firms may argue that this is just the cost of doing business. They may tell you they have attempted many things, but nothing has really worked.

Other industries experiencing similar hourly recruiting challenges are numerous and include railroad, flagman on road construction, residential cable installers, telemarketers, food processing and catering, servers, bank tellers, and others. Again, this problem is typically compounded by geography (the pool of targeted candidates at this pay level is further limited by the location of the opportunity). The people within the geographical market are making more than what we are willing to pay which is a considerable disconnect.

Giving up and accepting this as the way of life is not an acceptable answer. We need to acknowledge the difficulty, yet recognize things can still be done to make it better. Let’s agree the candidate universe is the candidate universe. It is difficult in making this universe larger especially on an immediate basis. Recruiting providers often suggest this is purely a candidate sourcing issue. If you were to use their sourcing streams, you will drive more candidate traffic and your problems will go away. Don’t we all wish it were that simple? I am not here to debate that additional and different sourcing strategies will help. This may drive some additional candidate traffic, but by itself, the problem will continue to exist. The answer is more about maximizing your position within targeted candidate population. How do you secure more than your fair share of ‘qualified’ candidates? How do you stand out from the rest? I have often heard health care systems say they have exhausted the local market for nurses. These employers want us to target candidates and hires outside of the area market. However, once we are engaged, the majority of the new hires still come from the existing, local candidate universe.

Our clients are very surprised and cannot comprehend our success. They think of it as black magic. Well it is not and the approach has application across all industries and all hourly skill sets. Whether it is truck drivers, retail clerks, flagmen, telemarketers or nurses, it all starts with messaging and employer branding. And yes, this needs to be configured specifically to you as the employer, the open positions and the location. It is all about appealing to the targeted audience. This is not an advertisement. It is about building retention into recruitment. It is about setting realistic expectations about the job, the location and the employer. Otherwise, you will continue to build in high employee turnover into your open positions. You need to have a realistic preview of what it means to work within the firm and the job. It cannot be a bait and switch program or you will continue to have problems and your reputation will be tarnished and damaged. Are you leveraging video to convey your message?  You should strongly consider doing so.     

This is the start, but not the ending point. How do we make our employment process candidate friendly? How do we make the candidate feel important and a priority? A long registration to apply process is an absolute no – no, but one we see often. The employer attempts to capture too much information upfront prior to developing any type of relationship with the candidate. Again, this is the old mindset that candidates are standing in line waiting to come to work for our organization. This is especially not true in a tight employment market. I have seen employers have a 5 to 25 minute registration to apply process and then immediately start to ask online screening questions prior to the candidate ever getting to view or be exposed to the open job. While discussing this matter with the employer, leaders and hiring authorities are resistant to change. They are unable to comprehend why this is contributing to the lack candidates. Even worse, they don’t even know they are losing valuable candidates during this stage of the process. Why are they unaware? You discover they lack tools and systems to capture and track this type of data. Again, you can’t fix what you don’t know is broken.

To start, you need to think about your employment process like you would dating. You wouldn’t propose marriage to a girlfriend or boyfriend prior to the courtship. When you have a lengthy apply/registration process and then immediately ask online screening questions prior to the candidate hearing about your open opportunity, you are creating a bad experience and will see significant candidate falloff. You are getting the cart ahead of the horse. Remember, the candidate universe is limited. Again, it is all about creating a great candidate experience.

Second, build efficiency through technology into your employment program. Have a mobile apply process. Statistics show that over 40% of the hourly candidates use mobile apply. If this feature does not exist in your firm, just think about how many candidates you are missing. A high-tech solution will also speed up the entire employment process. Make the candidate registration process simple and short (60 seconds or less). Once registered make sure they can see a realistic company and job preview, selling the opportunity while level-setting the candidate’s expectations. Even consider a text message apply process. After a relationship is established, then, through the aid of technology, leverage an online screening questionnaire for basic fit, assessments and skill testing, automated interview processes (24/7), and self-scheduling tools to complete the process within 24 hours of start. The shelf-life of an hourly candidate is short, so this is important. Time is of the essence. Also, grant the candidate the option to bail from the tech system at any point in time to speak with a live recruitment staff person. Again, we do want candidate fallout. Complete the candidate vetting for fit and interest at the appropriate time during the onsite interview and not before. This is about courtship and putting marriages together. Make employment offers contingent on the candidate passing background checks and drug screening vs. waiting. Don’t make these candidates wait or you will see even more fallout.

Bear in mind, these high-tech solutions alone are not the complete answer. There needs to be constant personal contact at every step of the process. Appropriate recruiting staff needs to make contact with these candidates by phone at each key step, making them feel important, selling the opportunity, answering their questions, and facilitating the process. Every candidate that applies needs to be contacted. They need to feel welcome and important. They need to see that your organization is a special place and different from the rest. A high-touch/high-tech solution will maximize the candidate universe and will result in more-timely, better-fit hires reducing the time to fill while lowering your new hire attrition rate.

This high-tech/high-touch approach in recruiting for difficult-to-fill positions was affirmed by the Manpower Talent Shortage Survey. The survey identified the top ways of overcoming the talent shortage for these types of roles:

People practices…trying new recruiting practices (the same old recruiting methodology will not yield a different outcome)

  • Be proactive & patient
  • Treat recruiting like marketing
  • Promote a unique employer value proposition
  • Promote the company culture
  • Enhance the employer brand
  • Differentiate your opportunity
  • Leverage employee referrals
  • Network! Network! Network!

Again, you don’t have to accept your hourly hiring struggles. There is a better way. But, you must maintain realistic expectations. The problem is dynamic and there is no simple cure. It can get better, but it will never totally go away. Higher turnover is inherent to hourly roles, but it doesn’t have to be at the present levels. Configured sourcing strategies (i.e. employee referral program, networking, candidate pipelining, postings, advertising, data mining and social recruiting) along with employer brand messaging will help to drive more and better traffic. Combined with a complete high-tech/high-touch recruitment solution where you sell your opportunity first and screen for fit and interest second, you create positive relationships and trust with your candidates. You build retention into recruitment. A recruitment solution that is supported and enabled by technology. With these improvements, you are on the right path of becoming an industry leader in solving your hard-to-fill hourly positions.

Happy hunting.