When Dr. Alvaro Rey-Rosa steps into a room full of squirming students at a Salem, Oregon, junior high school, he’s there to talk to them about the rising rate of obesity among minority groups. He tells them how too much time spent watching TV and playing video games, combined with eating too much junk food, can make waistlines widen.
The pediatrician, who works at a Kaiser Permanente medical center, gives each of the youngsters a pedometer so they can track how much they move each day. If they use the pedometer for two weeks straight, they’ll receive extra credit for their science class.
Elsewhere in Oregon, at Kaiser’s Portland facilities, a couple of dozen high-school students spent two days last summer in the "Pathways to Medical Careers" program, talking to young doctors, nurses and technicians about their jobs, making toothpaste in the pharmacy and taking X-rays. "It’s not designed as a recruiting event. It’s really all about career exploration," says James Paulson, manager of recruitment and employment at Kaiser Permanente’s Northwest region in Portland.
But both events may well have longer-term ramifications, and Kaiser officials acknowledge there may be a future payoff. Although there’s no way to predict whether these programs will eventually lead a youngster to go to work for Kaiser, "it might inspire them to realize that there really is a career down the road. There are still benefits if there is one more available person out there to do this work," says Jim Gersbach, Kaiser’s spokesman for the Northwest region.
This is the philosophy behind Kaiser’s community involvement. It may take years, but in the end, the company’s interaction with a member of the community could ultimately mean a new hire.
Kaiser’s effort follows many forms and fashions. In the mid-Atlantic region, about $5 million is spent in the community each year, including health fairs and other community events, says Troy Green, who is the manager for that region, working out of Rockville, Maryland.
The mid-Atlantic office has also linked up with Workforce Organizations for Regional Collaboration (WORC), which serves as a matchmaker between companies and nonprofit organizations such as the Salvation Army and Goodwill, which help would-be employees in their job search.
A company such as Kaiser sends a job listing to WORC for a position in the Washington, D.C., area, for example. WORC--through its Web site--spreads the word to nonprofit organizations, which propose qualified candidates to Kaiser. "It’s like [the job board] Monster with adult supervision," says Summer Spencer, WORC’s executive director. "It ensures that there is quality control."
Green says the WORC program has "been really fruitful for us in this region. We spend less time screening and more time interviewing." Green says about 25 percent to 30 percent of those suggested by WORC are hired for entry-level positions at Kaiser.
WORC also arranges career fairs where employers first meet with the nonprofit service providers and then are introduced to potential job candidates. WORC helps place five or six candidates in new jobs each month. "We’re real careful to have an appropriate match," Spencer says. "We focus more on quality than quantity."
In the Northwest region, Kaiser also reaches out to adults with half-day seminars, partnering with organizations such as the NAACP. Kaiser might hold mock interviews and assess participants’ interviewing skills. At the same time, they keep their eyes open for potential job candidates.
"We might call them mock," Paulson says, "but they might lead to success."
Gersbach says it’s impossible to put a dollar value on Kaiser’s efforts. "It’s not a direct return on investment--if we spend $1 here, we’ll get $3 back on decreased recruitment costs." But participating in community events such as blood drives, blood-pressure checks and charity walks "not only generates positive community exposure, making the employer more attractive, but provides excellent non-threatening opportunities for involved employees to gently recruit," says Roger Herman, CEO of The Herman Group, a consultancy based in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Getting the whole family
Other organizations--particularly in health care, where the skills shortage is acute--are tapping into their local communities for potential employees. The Arizona Healthcare Recruiters Network has tackled this by holding a Youth Day in Phoenix. They have made it a family event where students, parents and the community in general can learn about health-care careers, says Margie Kasse, vice president of the health-care division of Bernard Hodes Group.
There’s a MASH tent where kids can dress up in scrubs and check out a medevac helicopter when it lands. They can talk to nurses and pharmacists. And they can also play games like "Got a Bone to Pick," in which youngsters identify bones from X-rays.
Students can also write essays on why they want to pursue a career in health care, and the winners receive scholarship money, Kasse says. While hospitals initially were reluctant to provide scholarship funds because they wouldn’t see an immediate return on their money, they later realized it was good public relations to take part.
This spring, more than 400 people attended the event. "A lot of hospitals just concentrate on high school kids," Kasse says. But holding a family-oriented event "is the only real way I can think of to get people of all ages to one event to learn about health-care careers."
To capture the interest of youngsters in health care careers, Loudoun Healthcare Inc. of Leesburg, Virgina., held a daylong summer camp for 20 eighth-graders last year, where they did everything from dressing up in scrubs and assisting in a "procedure" to bouncing a cantaloupe down the stairs -- with and without a bicycle helmet on it -- to see the results, says Mason Preddy, the hospital's professional clinical recruiter.
For kids who say they want to work with computers, Preddy counters with: "how about working with a $10 million computer that takes really cool pictures of the inside of your body." The ultimate goal is to "open up new horizons and educate kids that there are some great possibilities in health care."
David Lee, president of HumanNature@Work, a consulting and training firm, says efforts such as Youth Days "fit with guerrilla marketing techniques that small businesses use." Seminars such as Kaiser’s interviewing workshop, according to Lee, "tap into one of the strongest drivers influencing a job-seeker’s choice of employers--care about my professional development."
But first a company has to do research to determine what its target market values in terms of professional development. "HR folks would be wise to brainstorm with their marketing people," Lee says.
Herman suggests that companies take part in charity walks or sponsor a company day at an amusement park, and outfit employees in company T-shirts emblazoned with "Jobs available. Ask me." He then recommends arming employees with company business cards or mini job applications to hand out if someone approaches them.
Companies also can bring in teachers for summer internships to give them firsthand insight into what kinds of skills a student will need to succeed in a particular field.
As the economy revives, Herman expects to see increasing demand for employees. "Now is the time employers should be looking for creative ways to get out and reach the kind of people they’d like to be hiring. It’s time to build their bench strength."