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Staffing in a Tight Market

Published Monday Aug 20, 2018

Author Anne Saunders

Staffing in a Tight Market

When it comes to filling jobs in high demand, there’s no relief in sight. New Hampshire’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for the first couple months of 2018 came in at an eye-popping 2.6 percent, down from 2.8 percent the year before, meaning many companies will continue to face challenges around hiring.

The tight labor market is forcing recruiters to get creative if they’re going to help companies fill positions for in-demand skills. And companies are changing the way they fill positions, moving faster, raising compensation levels and offering benefits like flexible hours to attract and keep the employees they need.

As always, the unemployment rate is an average, and not all fields are triggering candidate wars. The NH Employment Security office has researched the skills and industries experiencing the greatest demand, projecting job trends through 2024. Several categories of highly skilled labor stand out, including jobs in health care, finance and technology.

Projections put statisticians as the top growth field in NH from 2014 to 2024 at more than 43 percent. While the relative number of jobs for statisticians is small, it reflects an in-demand skill set. Among the top fields that are also expected to grow is data and research analysis, including financial analysts, operations, marketing and computer systems analysis.

In a related arena, certain computer skills remain in high demand, including software engineering and cybersecurity. In finance, the need for accountants, financial advisers and tax experts is high and expected to remain strong through 2024. Most require significant higher education.

Health care jobs are in demand almost across the board in NH. As the industry seeks to contain costs, demand is increasing for mid-level hiring: nurse practitioners and physician assistants. Nursing, however, continues to lead the pack. In raw numbers, registered nurses, followed by nursing assistants, are expected to see the highest number of job openings in NH through 2024.

Competition Among Recruiters Heats Up
So what does that mean for the burgeoning field of recruiting? Recruiters who work in NH say they have to work harder to network, to build relationships and to encourage referrals. In high-demand fields, gone are the days of just posting a job and waiting for resumes to flow in.

“It’s forcing us to make sure that we’re spending even more time on hunting and farming for highly skilled professionals to place into positions,” says Barry Roy, metro market manager for Northern New England at Robert Half, a national recruiting firm that focuses on finance and technology staffing. “We’re having to use a lot more resources than we’ve ever had to use in the past.”

Like job seekers, recruiters are using a variety of networking tools to reach in-demand professionals including social media resources like LinkedIn as well as referrals and in-person contact at job fairs and colleges.

Aram Hampoian, CEO of CoreMedical Group in Manchester, which provides mostly contract and some permanent staffing for hospitals, nursing homes and other health care providers, says much has changed in the last few years, including how recruiters use technology. “If you would have told me five years ago my recruiters would be sending out over 10,000 texts a week to applicants, I would have laughed at you,” he says.

Creating Better Hiring Systems and Cultures
The tight labor market has also changed how recruiters help businesses find workers. Medicus Healthcare Solutions in Windham, for example, developed a proprietary process, M-Solve, to pinpoint client needs and the best potential hiring solutions. Recruiting firms can spend almost as much time advising companies on their hiring practices as in lining up candidates.

Companies with a positive company culture can, for example, leverage internal employee referrals. But being realistic about the market is also important.

“We’re always coaching our clients to be a little more flexible in what they’re looking for,” says Paul Silvio, vice president of the Alexander Technology Group, one of the four companies under the BANKW Staffing banner in NH. “Historically in IT, it’s always a challenge. You’re looking for specific niche skills, but you’re also looking for the business knowledge as well. Getting people to realize they might not get everything on their wish list, that they might have some tradeoffs, whether it’s a person closer to the end of his or her career or a younger worker with less experience,” he says.

When a good candidate has been identified, companies must act much faster to make the hire, recruiters say. The entire process of posting an opening, reviewing candidates, making an offer and bringing new people on board has to be streamlined.

“Time is absolutely of the essence in trying to get these candidates committed and trying to get them through the system,” says Cristina Muise, president of Medicus Healthcare Solutions. The medical field faces additional challenges because there’s a high level of vetting involved before placing candidates.

But moving quickly is essential in any high-demand field now, recruiters say. “The really, really good skill sets that we’re looking for, [candidates] have several—not just from us—opportunities that they can be looking at. So, it’s challenging,” Roy says.

This means that besides moving quickly on a good candidate, companies often need to offer a higher salary than pre-recession—in some cases as much as 15 percent or more, recruiters say. But other benefits can also attract candidates, such as work-life balance measures like flexible schedules and opportunities to work from home.

Focus on Retention
The idea that scarcity will inevitably drive up wages and benefits doesn’t hold true across the board. Louise Murphy is director of Visiting Angels in Nashua, which provides private-duty personal care workers to people in their homes, a high-demand field known for low wages.

“It’s extremely difficult to find people,” she says of  her field. Nonetheless, starting wages remain around $11 to $13.50 an hour, and there is rarely a guarantee of 40 hours. Wages and hours are limited by clients, many of whom are elderly and afraid of spending down their savings. Even those who are reasonably well off are on fixed incomes, she notes. “There’s only so far you can push the envelope.”

When prices go up, clients or their families cut back on hours. Another challenge is when a client dies or moves into a nursing home, the personal care provider may be out of work or face reduced hours. In those cases, the care providers will often reach out to other agencies that have work.

This type of churn is common, and Murphy says Visiting Angels is working hard on retention efforts. “We do a lot of employee recognition,” she says, using a recognition wall at the Nashua office, gift cards for extra efforts and referral bonuses. The company also started a mentoring program for new hires two years ago and continues to explore training opportunities. “That’s definitely helped,” she says.

Retention is important because the rigorous screening process means only 10 percent of interviewees at Visiting Angels get hired, she says. “There’s a lot of money spent up front.”
For most companies, retention is a better strategy than replacement. But recruiters say the current job market isn’t likely to stop the churn in many top fields.

New generations have new expectations when it comes to changing jobs and advancing their careers, says Sean Dowling, vice president of KBW Financial Staffing and Recruiting, another BANKW Staffing company.

“On the finance and accounting side, especially at the millennial level, we’re seeing that they move jobs every two years. Typically, they’re ready to make a move and will jump on opportunities quickly, whereas the Gen X demographic was a little more committed and would stay five to seven years,” he says.

No one interviewed for this article expected these trends to change anytime soon. The labor squeeze is affected by disparate factors from an aging population, which creates demand for health care professionals, to growing cybersecurity concerns, which creates demand for IT professionals. Roy points to a recent survey of chief financial officers nationally that found 65 percent of respondents report it’s somewhat or very challenging to find qualified candidates compared with 56 percent who said the same thing last year.

In the high-skill, high-demand fields of technology, finance and medicine, applicants are in the driver’s seat now—and they know it. Perhaps it’s not surprising then, that another field is becoming more competitive when it comes to staffing—recruitment.

Dowling was one of several recruiters to comment on the competition in his own field. “We’re constantly on the lookout for people we can hire internally, that can come in and be able to attract more candidates and help us fill jobs. That’s part of the nature of a hot market for us.”

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