How to Attract and Retain Top Talent

The recession has changed the way American companies staff their businesses. Major layoffs, persistent unemployment and lower profits have forced business leaders to rethink how they hire and manage human capital.


According to Sherri Elliott-Yeary, CEO of Optimance Workforce Strategies and author of Ties to Tattoos: Turning Generational Differences into a Competitive Advantage, staffing firms are redeveloping their service offerings in response to the changed work force, as more companies are open to utilizing temporary workers.


However, it can be difficult for staffing firms to identify top talent and make placements because high-performing candidates are seeking permanent corporate roles and may not be willing to accept contract work.


Learn how your firm can attract and retain top talent and what the recent economic trends mean for the industry.


Are you seeing signs that workers are seeking greater flexibility in their work arrangements?

Yes. As many of the Generation X and millennials are offered jobs, they require and expect life-work balance. Notice I said “life” first. They get it — their work supports their life, not the other way around. Also, many boomers are tired and worn out from giving too much to their employers and are now requiring the flexibility to take care of aging parents and children and find some balance for their own lives as they decide what their “second half” will be like.


One of my new clients, an international construction firm, currently is experiencing 40 percent turnover in the first year of employment with its new college graduates — engineers, etc. — and 25 percent for employees who have worked one to three years. It seems recruiters are winning these candidates over, but then they find there’s a gap once they experience the on-the-job opportunity. They’re asked to move to the location of their project, and they’re not as interested in being away from family and friends.


What other types of flexibility are workers looking for on the part of their employers?

Many new hires require that they be recognized and motivated based on what matters to them and that they be treated as an individual, not just another employee. They’re also asking for assistance in financial planning for their future.


How are employers responding to this?

One of my clients, Nissan, has started a generational diversity team and is asking each generation of its employees what matters to them in order to make them feel included and appreciated. They bring in outside speakers such as myself, have reading clubs, etc.


Do you think the number and types of opportunities for nonpermanent employees is growing?

I agree that contract labor and independent business owners have more opportunity in today’s climate than ever before. Many of the Gen X and millennial generation couldn’t get a job out of college, so they took it upon themselves to create employment in an area that they felt passionate about — IT, PR, social media — especially while they still lived at home with their parents and had support to start their own businesses.


Companies hire independent contractors due to the overall cost savings and so that they won’t have to worry about things like employee turnover, benefits, workers compensation, unemployment, COBRA, etc. And when a project is completed, they can simply separate with no messy legal issues.


Do you think the job market is becoming more competitive?

Recruiters and companies are hiring again, but they’re looking for top talent, not B-level performers, and they’re finally at a place in the economy where they’re taking a good look at the current staff and replacing average performers with top-quality talent. In an effort to be considered by companies that are hiring, it’s critical that candidates have something to offer besides their prior work experience.


For instance, many HR professionals lost their jobs over the past few years. If they want to be considered for a new role at or above their prior title, they need to keep up with new trends and laws, and they need to have a good story to tell the hiring team about why they’re a good fit and what they did while they were off work to help them achieve their goals.


Are companies looking for more of the types of people who can perform multiple functions as opposed to specialists who do a small group of similar, specialized tasks?

Obviously, many companies reduced their staff size in response to the economic downturn. Now, as they slowly start adding staff again, many of them are requiring that new hires have the ability to handle multiple roles. This is why many members of the millennial generation believe in building a lattice framework of talent and not a ladder like boomers did.


Millennials want to learn as much as they can, be part of new projects, learn about new technology and develop new skills, which in turn makes them more valuable to their current employer and future employers.


How can staffing agencies take advantage of these trends?

They need to offer their clients more than just the ability to fill a seat. They need to be a strategic partner with their clients to really understand the specific hiring needs and talent requirements of the company today and next year.


How can staffing agencies better attract and retain creative, multitalented people?

One of the best ways to attract knowledge workers, as the cost of health care is rising, is to offer some type of medical plan and a 401(k) opportunity to attract members of the boomer generation who need health coverage.


What are some other ways staffing agencies can help companies compete in these uncertain times?

One thing they should do is let go of the old ways. The days of hiring exclusively full-time, salaried employees are gone. Instead, staffing firms need to embrace a new business model where contingent resources like temporary employees, contract professionals and freelancers are a fundamental part of their offerings.


What are some strategies companies can use to prepare their work force for growth?

They should identify the most essential positions in their organization and evaluate options for outsourcing or using temporary help for noncore activities. Maintaining a smaller direct staff keeps overhead at a minimum while giving you the flexibility to quickly ramp up operations when business picks up. Another thing they should do is replace low-performing employees with high performers. In a business environment where every employee is critical, an HR consultant or executive can help a company identify and hire top performers to replace underperforming staff members.


What role does training play in today’s economy?

The “new normal” demands an agile and cross-trained workforce. It makes financial sense to outsource this critical need to cross-train direct staff by either supplying support personnel to pick up the slack while employees undergo training or providing access to highly trained specialists who can conduct necessary training.