Panelists discuss finding, keeping employees in 2021
Early in the pandemic, we had a difficult time finding terrific candidates for seasonal positions. Our government agencies did amazing things to help support citizens during the pandemic, but the offers they made to students and lower-income earners incentivized people to stay home and collect program subsidies rather than seek employment. So far in 2021, we have had a much more successful search. It is a horrible thing to feel the benefits of other industries that are struggling (restaurants and hospitality in particular), but folks from these industries have so many of the qualities we appreciate in a candidate — flexibility, multitasking, empathy and enthusiasm.
Now that the incentives are stricter and almost over, I am finding hiring easier. I have also taken a hard, critical look at our ideal qualities and qualifications and moved toward our goals of digital growth. The pandemic has moved our sales force to much more digital and remote platforms — the very places where the ‘kidployees’ have their greatest strengths. There is a huge opportunity for our industry to leap forward in sales and customer care by allowing these new skills.
We typically hire six to eight in-store seasonal staff in late April or early May. The pandemic and processes we have had to put into place have made us expand this to 22 new positions for 2021 — because of the increase in business but also because we need more team members to manage restrictions for in-store shopping and sanitation of store surfaces.
This year, we started the hiring process in February and have a robust onboarding and training before their first in-store day. This allows us to keep a COVID-friendly environment with fewer people face to face, but gives us the advantage of having team members productive and profitable on their very first day.
In the last 10 years, it has gotten harder and harder to find entry-level team members who have the kind of skills to connect with customers to make them feel welcome and appreciated. Years ago, we had a hard time finding team members who could use technology and computerized systems. Now the challenge is finding entry-level staff who can greet and speak to people — YIKES!
For new full-time staff who are not seasonal, we offer a standard medical and dental package. For our seasonal staff, we have bonuses based on sales and training/education achievements. This is an area we are putting more focus into for 2021 — finding ways to have staff return seasonally for many years and subsidize their secondary educations as part of our partnership.
For our full-time staff with families, our most popular benefit is certainly our dental package. What worked great for us for seasonal staff is $100 on their first day when they have completed their home-based pre-education, then having once-a-month friendly sales competitions on focal products.
We have been hiring as we need people. Over the last year, we have hired 11 new people; three were people who had changed jobs to go work for someone else, and eight were new positions. We have hired people who have come from other industries where they were laid off, such as the airlines.
Utah has had slightly higher unemployment than it did pre-pandemic but still far lower than the national average. I don’t feel it was easier or harder to hire. We did have more people apply for the positions than before the pandemic. However, many were not qualified and were just applying for any job out there. We had a higher rate of people fall out of the hiring process voluntarily than we had noticed previously, either by not showing up or getting another position sooner.
We did start doing at least the first interview utilizing Zoom instead of in person. This has been a great time saver as well as a safer way to interview. It is also nice to record the interview so you can go back and see them again or share it with someone else on your team for their opinion.
Many people complain that it is hard to find good people. This is true and, frankly, we just have to accept it. As the saying goes, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. We typically need about 20 people to apply to interview 10 and hire one. This is a very time-consuming process. We have multiple interviews per candidate. If you use the excuse that it is hard to hire and manage people, so you don’t do it, that becomes the limitation for your business. It will never grow beyond you.
It will typically take us one to two months to find the right person. We opened a new location in June. We hired the five people we needed to staff the new store before it opened, so they had experience with us. Many will say this is an expensive approach, which it is, but in the long term it pays off. When we opened the store, our staff was well-seasoned.
As far as benefits, we offer a matching 401k after one year, we pay for up to 100% of their health care coverage depending on the plan they choose, offer a flexible spending account, provide paid time off and, best of all, flexibility.
I don’t see hiring getting any easier.
Christian Staples owner Arctic Spas Utah Salt Lake City