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Employers share hiring, retention tips at DBT/SBDC event

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Diane Campanile, founder of People-Dynamics, an HR consulting firm, talks to attendees of the quarterly Delaware Business Times-Small Business Development Center event at CSC Station on Thursday about hiring and retention strategies. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

WILMINGTON – A handful of employers shared their recruiting and retention tips Thursday at the third quarterly joint Delaware Business Times-Small Business Development Center event.

Hiring and retention was the subject of the third quarterly Delaware Business Times-Small Business Development Center event at CSC Station on Thursday. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Despite historically low unemployment levels nationally and in Delaware, there continues to be nearly two job openings for every jobseeker nationwide, leading to a continuing labor shortage.

That crisis has been compounded by the loss of more than 263,000 working-age Americans to COVID and the earlier-than-expected retirement of about 2.4 million Americans early in the pandemic. Those have added to a historically declining birth rate, a significant increase in new small business creation, increased competition by e-commerce companies like Amazon, a decrease in visas for foreign workers and a lack of adequate access to childcare services.

In such an environment, the ability to attract and retain employees is integral to a company’s success. Commenting on those efforts Thursday was Scott Malfitano, vice president of governmental relations for CSC and chair of the state’s Workforce Development Board; Diane Campanile, founder of HR consulting firm People-Dynamics; Mark Stellini, co-founder of cabling company Assurance Media; Todd Moran, vice president of risk management at construction firm M. Davis & Sons; and Wayne Smith, president and CEO of the Delaware Healthcare Association (DHA), the trade association for state hospitals.

All reported challenges finding and retaining employees, but each are employing different strategies to reach as many pockets of candidates as possible and keeping them happy.

“Thinking outside of the box is huge,” Stellini said. “We have to hire young people and we have to develop them … We’re not going to find journeymen out there to hire.”

Mark Stellini, co-founder of cabling and A/V firm Assurance Media, talks to attendees Thursday. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Assurance Media started a “friends and family” program, offering workers a $2,000 bonus for a referral who lasts at least 90 days at the firm. Those applicants have turned out to be much stronger hires because the referrer already knows the culture and expectations of the company, Stellini added.

Campanile noted that she tells her clients to better value their most experienced and important workers – a key to strong retention. One strategy is to connect more experienced workers with new associates for training and rewarding them with a quarterly or annual stipend.

“Make them feel respected and feel that they are a part of your solutions,” she said.

Campanile also recommended reconsidering the offerings of your workplace perks, noting that some employees are restoring after-hours alcoholic drinks or beefing up coffee bars, while some are eyeing on-site childcare.

Moran noted that M. Davis strives to show job applicants that there is a career ladder at the firm, and that there is opportunity to move to a different role or trade later on if one is unsatisfied with the initial path.

M. Davis also utilizes a number of state and local run programs from the Pathways co-op program to trade apprenticeships to re-entry programs for those leaving incarceration to find new workers.

Wayne Smith, president and CEO of the Delaware Healthcare Association, talks to attendees Thursday. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Smith noted that the DHA has instituted a flex schedule that allows its small team to navigate a variety of life circumstances, and it’s been an effective way to retain workers. Several years ago, he also incentivized an event organizer by turning 10% of sales over budget for its programs into a commission, leading to increased sales for the organization and greater buy-in for the employee, Smith said.

All of the speakers advised that employers should reconsider education requirements for applicants, noting that training by the company can often replace a college degree. They also have opened opportunities for those with some prior criminal convictions, a pool of workers totaling tens of millions nationwide.

Nearly all have also instituted same-day hiring practices, cutting through the red tape of multiple rounds of interview that could see candidates taking a different job while waiting.

“There’s a cost to hiring, but there’s a huge cost to missing out on the right person too,” Moran said.

At the end of the day, there will be additional costs to hiring as a limited labor pool leads to competitive bidding for workers by employers. Stellini emphasized hiring and training seemingly unqualified candidates, noting that he hired a McDonald’s worker who served him one day. Today, that man is among the firm’s best sales associates.

“It’s not brain surgery. These are people,” Stellini said, advising that employers should think about what they would want. “If you show your people you care about them, they will take over the world for you.”

The fourth quarterly joint Delaware Business Times-Small Business Development Center event will cover cybersecurity for employers in November.

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