Despite the continuing worker shortage and rising labor costs, finding quality talent is still possible. It just requires a different approach, one that identifies new opportunities to develop and communicate your company’s overall value proposition, and the utilization of technology and intentional processes to search for ideal candidates.
This can be accomplished in a few ways:
Start by opening up your pool of potential candidates.
In 2017, the National Restaurant Association reported that 37% of its members said labor recruitment was their biggest challenge. That’s a 15% increase from just two years prior, and a trend that has continued well into 2019. In a time when there are more vacancies than applicants, it’s time to take a hard look at the outdated model for recruiting restaurant staff and identify new practices that broaden the talent pool and bring you candidates that may otherwise be overlooked.
A key way to do that, according to Union Square Hospitality Group Founder Danny Meyer, is to breakdown existing stereotypes. “What we need to start doing better than ever is breaking down the stereotypes of who typically gets these jobs,” he said. By broadening the view of your traditional ideal candidate, you can cast a much wider net and recruit from previously untapped pools of talent. Union Square Hospitality Group has done this by holding job fairs with organizations that work with seniors, former inmates, and people with learning disabilities. McDonald’s recently boosted plans to hire through second-chance programs, and established a partnership with AARP to connect with the retiree community, both of which help them balance the scheduling demands of their usual labor pool of young adults from 18-24. “The 50-plus-year-old workers want a steady schedule that fits with the pattern of their lifestyle,” said McDonald’s Chief People Officer Melissa Kersey. “Younger employees want more on-demand flexibility that allows them to change and swap shifts if needed. The great thing is we can provide both.” And in Ohio, the Ohio Restaurant Association has launched job training and placement initiatives for young people, low-income residents, and second-chance programs.
As you open up your pool of potential candidates, you’ll also want to consider removing your usual limitations, like rigid background check policies or job experience requirements. For us at Kitchen United, background checks are not exclusionary by rule. “As with most companies, we implemented background checks,” said Janey Chu, Vice President of Human Resources. “Our approach is to review the results and provide a second chance to those individuals where some other companies might have disqualified them because of their record. With recent hires in Chicago, we came across three potential employees that had a record of some kind. Instead of excluding those potential employees who were ideal candidates, we talked to them about it and told them we were willing to give them a second chance. They were all very grateful.”
And while relevant work experience is valuable when you’re hiring for any position, we don’t think it should be a dealbreaker. “If you were to look at a job description to become a Kitchen United team member today, you’d see at the very bottom it says ‘no experience necessary,’” said Carl Orsbourn, Vice President of Operations. “Some people react to that rather negatively but really what we’re trying to do is hire people on personality traits and aptitude to learn and aptitude to live up to what we’re calling ‘United Best’ behaviors. From there, we provide a nationally recognized food handling certification and a comprehensive training program – and each candidate who completes the training earns free new non-slip shoes too!”
Create the right process to scale your search.
Searching for the right candidates has to become a scaleable process for your company. In order to do that, the process must be guided by priorities. Start by identifying the qualities that matter most. For Danny Meyer, that’s emotional skills. At Kitchen United, it’s what we call our “United Best.” “We have a list of qualities called our ‘United Best’ that we created when we were thinking about hiring for our Chicago location,” said Brady Reid, Regional Operations Director. “Our team brainstormed a list of positive traits we look for in employees, wrote them on a whiteboard, and each picked our top four most important. That list because a brain trust of what we look for in an employee which we articulated into four basic traits that become our ‘United Best.’”
Once you’ve identified those ideal qualities, think of new ways to use technology to filter candidates accordingly. When integrated properly, technology can streamline a lot of the hiring process, resulting in more scaleability for your company. “We’re using SparkHire to make the process more efficient,” Janey said. “Instead of trying to call each candidate, coordinating a phone interview, and doing an onsite, we’re sending them a recorded video interview process. This is a great opportunity for the candidate to get to know our team before we meet them in-person. As part of this process, we ask recorded questions, the candidate submits a video response of their answers, the Head of Operations reviews those responses, and if all goes well, we invite them to an onsite interview. From there we’re able to make an offer within 48 hours and onboarding begins the following week.”
Think about your overall value proposition.
In an industry where profit margins are often low, raising wages isn’t always the most viable option to recruit talent. But the good news is that hourly wage isn’t the only value you have to offer. Culture, benefits, opportunities for development, and work/life balance are all possible pieces of your overall value proposition. Take Sweetgreen, for example, that announced an unprecedented 5-month paid parental leave policy earlier this year.
After you’ve identified your company’s value proposition, communicate it clearly in all recruiting communication. If rolling out new benefits programs isn’t an option for your company, make sure that employees understand their current benefits package. “Through our recruiting process and going through their onboarding sessions, a big focus is informing and educating new hires on what their benefits are and how to enroll,” Janey said. “A lot of our kitchen center team members have never been offered benefits before, so they don’t understand what it means. We proactively answer questions like, ‘What is a deductible?’ and ‘what is a copay?’ In addition to covering the benefits programs through our new hire orientation program, we also make available video recordings so employees can listen to them in detail and better understand their benefits program.” Investing the time to explain benefits like time off programs which include paid vacation and sick leave, and life insurance offerings to employees means that our staff recognizes all the ways that we’ve invested in them, and can make the most out of their benefits.
At the root of it, finding new talent in a shrinking labor pool is a challenge to find out what really matters to your company and what really matters to the employees you’d like to hire. What case can you make that connects the two?