It is the hot topic at all the industry conferences and news feeds — “we have a personnel shortage, and nobody wants to work.” The problem has become so pervasive that agencies have had to consider — and in some cases execute — service reductions, which is of course inimical to the mission of transit. But fear not — while the transit industry is not known for being very receptive to change, it is not immune to it either, and we have managed to adapt to changing circumstances many times before. The current crisis is no different. It just requires us to think differently.
Just as our external customers’ preferences and expectations have changed with the advent of “self-serve” transportation options, our internal customers’ (employees) preferences have changed with the disruption of the pandemic and the soul-searching that has driven many to reconsider work/life balance and other employment-related considerations. Smart businesses read their customers’ tastes accurately and cater to them, and that is exactly what we must do. So, what are the new expectations of prospective employees?
Remote Work Privileges
The pandemic forced all of us to take a second look at virtual meetings and remote work out of necessity. Although we are actively working to transition to a post-pandemic work environment, it seems that people have grown accustomed to remote work, having experienced some of its benefits. Because we are a service industry, many employers are reluctant to consider permitting too many remote work assignments or roles, and this is understandable. Without systems of accountability in place, one can easily imagine losses of productivity and performance. However, statistics show that many employees are more productive when given the opportunity to work remotely, even if only for a couple of days a week. The ability to be home on a weekday enables employees to attend to doctor’s appointments, parental obligations, and other personal matters that would otherwise have to intrude on the weekend.
Additionally, remote workers may gain more hours of work time simply by eliminating the commute and/or working outside traditional office hours. The reduced footprint required at the office, as a result of a portion of the workforce working remotely, can translate into additional savings. For all these reasons, it is prudent to evaluate each of your job roles to see if partial or full-time remote work is feasible. As we recruiters speak with prospective candidates, this is a common request, and when the employer is willing to accommodate, we are often able to eliminate relocation costs and the candidate is able to begin work much sooner.
Leadership Development, Technical Training, and Opportunities for Advancement
This expectation is not so much a result of the pandemic but rather the attrition of the baby boomer workforce that has been going on for years. Newer generations of workers are unwilling to accept the notion that advancement is more a function of time than merit, and they will often leave positions faster than their predecessors, if they do not believe their talents are recognized. The combination of this shift in attitude with the effects of the pandemic have rendered America’s workforce far more particular about which jobs they will take and how long they will stay in them. This is just one of many reasons why smart businesses take the time to look at how their organizations appear from the outside and at the entry level. Does the organization intend to nurture talent from the beginning of employment and make clear the career paths available? Is regular performance feedback provided, and is merit rewarded? Is an effort made to match abilities optimally with assignments? These practices not only feed organizational morale, but they also create a more robust “industry bench” for our future leaders.
In the modern world, technology becomes obsolete much sooner than we expect, and it is therefore a faulty assumption that once an employee becomes experienced in a position that there will be no need for future training. Much to the contrary, statistics show the typical worker will change jobs up an average of five times in their lifetime, and this number is likely increasing. Ongoing training is necessary for any healthy organization to ensure continuity of operations; preservation of institutional knowledge; adaptability of the workforce and the organization to changing circumstances; and as a quality control mechanism to ensure ongoing compliance with governing policies and regulations. Investing in your organization’s training programs will pay dividends, and the most successful organizations create a culture of learning within the workforce with an eye toward succession planning. Do not worry about losing your investment in training because some of those you train will eventually move on. Take the position training is done so that they can move up. As Henry Ford said, “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.”
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and a Positive Work Environment
It is a long-standing principle a happy worker is a productive worker, and it is a fact the quickest way to make workers unhappy is to pair them with an unfriendly “boss.” For this reason, we must emphasize training is necessary not just for technical disciplines but also for management skill sets. One of the most poorly performed functions in our businesses is supervision, and the negative outcomes from this are numerous: low morale; lost productivity; inordinate turnover; legal exposure; non-compliance with rules and regulations; heightened tensions with organized labor; perception and/or reality of inequitable treatment of employees; and worst of all, indifference toward the mission and success of the organization. It is a serious obligation for senior management to train and/or replace supervisors who lack the required skill sets to prevent this type of degradation from occurring, and a reward system for positive behaviors and employee development outcomes must be established to ensure ongoing motivation to nurture the workforce.
Communicating a career path to new and existing employees is important, but words fall hollow when the employees do not see others like themselves realizing that benefit. A lack of diversity is bad enough, but diversity for its own sake without real inclusion is even more pernicious because it gives employees the sense that the lack of real opportunity is not a concern to organizational leadership because the surface appearance of diversity is being accepted as sufficient. Employees are sophisticated enough to know when their voices are not being heard, and only through diverse, inclusive management can an organization build trust among the workforce that their voices are being heard.
During the pandemic, many people reevaluated their working and living arrangements and made the decision to choose better work/life balance. Remote work illuminated new options for many, and the ensuing shortage of workers has emboldened many prospective employees to press for higher wages. And then came inflation, which has effectively decreased our employees’ purchasing power, thereby prompting them to increase their salary requests. While we recognize the realities of budget constraints; the need for internal equity; and policies and procedures for the establishment of job classes and pay ranges, it is important to acknowledge that salary surveys from 2019 and 2020 do not reflect current economic conditions. Before allowing qualified candidates to walk away because of salary, we recommend considering any savings that have been realized while the position has been vacant (lapse), as well as the opportunity cost of the position staying vacant with work not performed optimally until the position is filled. Sometimes, granting an extra bit of salary is the better decision for your organization.
Other elements of compensation that have become increasingly more important to candidates are the amount of time off allowed per year (again, an indication of concern for better work/life balance); insurance benefits; and childcare options when available. The amount of vacation and/or sick leave can be especially important if remote work is not offered. Many private sector companies have explored establishing partnerships with daycare facilities to accommodate the needs of working parents. And of course, with the rising cost of health care, one of the strongest benefits organizations can provide is group health insurance coverage. While many organizations already offer these benefits, they may not be selling them to prospective employees with sufficient emphasis. Which brings us finally to the role of a professional recruiter…
Because recruitment — or “talent acquisition” as it is also called — is a full-time job and certainly onerous when multiple vacancies must be filled, one can sometimes lose perspective on how your organization looks from the outside. Hiring a professional recruiter to assist with staffing needs can be beneficial for this reason alone — the recruiter makes a full assessment of the organization and all it has to offer and tailors the job advertisement and accompanying materials to attract those who meet the desired employee profile. We also assist in evaluating the minimum qualifications for the positions sought to ensure that they are proportionate to the performance expectations of the jobs. Sometimes, capable candidates are prevented from competing if the job requirements are outsized for the position or written with a past incumbent in mind.
Recruiters also keep an active talent database and have regular communication with prospects who may not be scanning advertisements on a regular basis but who have indicated their preferences for future roles. We view our role as informed industry consultants who are knowledgeable in the value of your organization and its career potentials and who can convey those assets to prospective candidates whose needs most closely align with them. As executive recruiters, we consider ourselves partners to our human resources counterparts in transit agencies to bring extra resources and concentrated effort to their most critical positions.
Whether your organization recruits for industry talent in-house or with the assistance of a recruiting firm, we are all recruiting under the same, post-pandemic circumstances, and it is essential to begin the task with a full understanding of the evolving expectations of job seekers and the agility to meet those expectations in exchange for strong performance and commitment to your organization and its mission.
Christian Kent and Jeff Popovich are Principals at KL2 Connects LLC