Sure, the information technology age has brought definite advantages, including Internet recruitment, improved infrastructure and the automation of previously paper-bound processes for even the smallest HR departments. But after Internet recruitment queries are posted and replies come in, there’s still the need for due diligence in sorting through the mountain of resumes, scheduling interviews and even more that needs to be done. The Internet and other technological innovations have shortened the recruitment cycle by providing a new avenue by which to tap the labor market, but are yet incapable of performing the time-absorbing work. Moreover, many of today’s jobs require special skills or training—in the classroom or on the job—characteristics that are difficult to gauge from nothing more than a response to an Internet posting.
Employers are disheartened by recruitment options. Typically, the options available to HR professionals tasked with immediately mustering a large pool of qualified applicants provide little help. The obvious option of beefing up the human resources staff to provide additional arms and legs proves impractical and is a route seldom taken during a recruitment barrage of unpredictable duration. One reason for this is that the high demand to bring in new bodies may not be a long-term need. Just a few years ago, when perceptions of the economy weren’t nearly as positive, downsizing was a business solution dictated by the pessimistic corporate philosophy of the day. Today the needs of large and mid-size companies experiencing hypergrowth could be equally short-lived, and it makes little sense for most companies to develop an enormous HR department if the extra help won’t be needed a year down the road. Taking on more staff can put undue stress on already strapped HR budgets.
This approach to managing today’s recruitment crunch is, in many cases, not feasible because of an inherent HR paradox—you don’t have time to recruit recruiters when you have to recruit quickly. In other words, when the ebb and flow of the economy suddenly calls for an increased number of workers to fill a rapidly increasing number of jobs, HR managers can’t stop and recruit additional HR staff.
The preferred option of many HR managers has been to call on the assistance of outside recruitment and search firms. The outsourcing of HR functions, specifically recruiting, has become the preferred route for many HR managers feeling the pressure to fill the ranks quickly. Qualified firms can do a good job of finding viable candidates in short order. However, the high price tag attached to the outsourcing option is enough to make most managers cringe, especially those working at small companies with a low budgetary ceiling. Illinois’ state employment agencies decided they could be helpful to just such employers and set out to polish up their act.
Illinois employment agencies propose another solution. Recently HR professionals have been warming up to a new source of help from a place they previously wouldn’t have expected to find a responsive, employer-oriented organization—the public sector. Throughout the United States, major changes are subtly taking place in the way that many states deliver employment and workforce-development programs to better service employers and job seekers alike.
It’s no secret that there exists a common frustration among job seekers, employers and the general public when it comes to finding information on state-funded employment, training and recruitment programs. Customers are often sent to multiple offices operated by different agencies if they wanted to take advantage of no-cost or low-cost information and services. To combat the growing cynicism and truly meet the needs of their resident employers, certain states set out on their own to begin exploring alternative delivery systems.
Illinois is one state taking on a pacesetter role in delivering more streamlined, impactful services to HR professionals. The Illinois Employment & Training Centers (IETCs) is a newly formed network of 48 offices that resulted from combining and integrating Department of Employment Security (DES) services with those available through other public workforce-development providers. An additional seven offices are expected to be operating this year.
By late 1994, the states of Illinois and Wisconsin were among those taking an early pioneer role in what is now broadly termed the "one-stop" concept. Under this new concept, employers and job seekers now access, under a single roof, a broader array of employment security, workforce-development and business-support programs. Services available to employers include recruitment services, tax credit information, employee training programs and access to the latest local and national labor market information. Soon, what Wisconsin, Illinois and a handful of other states were attempting to do got a needed boost when the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) took note of the programs and made available a series of one-stop implementation grants in 1995. The USDOL grants made it possible for states not only to begin a physical rearrangement of service providers—including the DES, Job Training Partnership Act recipients, Private Industry Councils and other local programs—but also to provide access to the marketing tools necessary for shedding the image of being nothing more than a safety net for the chronically unemployed. Early on, however, the newly formed IETC needed a culture change.
IETC makes a culture change. In Illinois, the creation of the IETC Network was nothing less than a complete culture change among public employment service providers. It involved a new strategic-planning process that was fueled by employer input. To develop an implementation plan, the state needed to know what employers thought of the current services—what was right, what was wrong and where these services needed to go if they were going to be of real value to employers. Armed with reams of employer survey data and ongoing employer suggestions, implementation of the one-stop concept began to take shape in 1995 when Illinois was awarded one of the USDOL grants.
A little more than 90 percent of Illinois’ employers have 250 employees or less. This told the state that HR managers are having to wear many different hats (accounting, payroll, personnel, recruitment, office manager and so on) and were in need of a valuable business partner. The state, however, knew that it would have to develop a management philosophy that would appeal to these HR managers if they were ever going to cozy up to the IETC concept.
Illinois state officials realized that to develop a network of effective and efficient employment and training centers, they would need to be administered in a manner similar to the way the USDOL administered the grants. Regionally combined offices would operate rather autonomously under the supervision of the state instead of being tightly regulated. Previously, state officials had wrongly assumed that only the regional offices were capable of understanding the specific needs of the area that office would serve.
Because of Illinois’ diverse workforce population, ranging from an urban and suburban culture in the north to a more agrarian and industrial-based economy in the southern and western regions, this sort of thinking was only logical. Local offices needed a certain amount of autonomy if they were to address the specific strengths and deficiencies of the local workforces. Moreover, the local offices already possessed working relationships with area employers and understood the nuances of their business needs.
Throughout the implementation process, response and measurement mechanisms were built into client communications, effectively allowing the state to benchmark its progress in meeting the needs of area employers and job seekers, and to reengineer its approach as the network was developed. Employers that used the system were asked not only to comment on services currently available, but also to provide suggestions on other services they would like to see delivered through the IETCs. Employers were encouraged to comment on the quality, speed and professionalism of IETC staff.
State officials from the Department of Employment Security and Department of Commerce and Community Affairs statisticians also measured the opinions and attitudes of employers who weren’t using the system to find out why. A majority of the employers said that they simply didn’t know about the IETCs and that they would have made use of IETC services if they had known about them.
Survey results in areas where the one-stop concept already had been initiated showed strong enthusiasm for the streamlined delivery of employer services. Employers liked the fact that they could now do everything with a single phone call to a single contact at a single location. Conversely, results in areas where the one-stop concept hadn’t yet been initiated showed that employers wanted services that were easier to access, and they wanted fewer contacts to deal with on a day-to-day basis.
Based on these and similar results, Illinois policy-makers felt they had struck a chord with employers and set in motion the resources necessary to expand the number of areas serviced by the consolidated one-stop offices. Illinois officials realized the state’s IETCs were on their way to fulfilling their dream of being a flexible, responsive, employer-oriented service provider. The changes have been well-received statewide.
Employers appreciate the staffing help. This increased level of attentiveness to the needs of businesses and job seekers is paying dividends for HR departments of all sizes as many HR managers are discovering.
At Gates Rubber Co. in Galesburg, Illinois, Human Resources Manager Logan Stiers uses his local IETC office to prequalify candidates for positions that open up at the plant. His firm, a rubber hose manufacturer, is one of the largest companies in its industry with more than 450 employees.
"The people in our communities are very familiar with the services provided by the IETC. We get a lot of good candidates for every open position, and the people at IETC have been instrumental in helping us attract the best possible employees," says Stiers. "In fact, many of the employees we’ve hired through this program have advanced into jobs with increased supervisory responsibility and into highly skilled positions, such as in quality."
Stiers’ experience is not uncommon. Many Illinois companies are finding candidates qualified for some of their most skilled or highly technical positions. At Schaumburg, Illinois-based Motorola, a premier developer of technology-driven communications devices and services, for example, staffing manager Jim Siakel has worked with the local IETC to fill open positions at a variety of levels within the organization.
"In the last year we’ve used the resources of the IETC to identify and prescreen applicants for more than 20 positions, which they’ve helped us fill," says Siakel. "Most recently, they helped us find a software engineer and an engineering technician. The IETC dramatically reduced the recruitment cycle to find these people too—I just put in a call and they take it from there."
According to Siakel, the HR department at Motorola was reorganized nearly two years ago and had to find more cost-effective ways of bringing in new talent by tweaking its staffing and recruitment operations. "To streamline our staffing operations, we now rely primarily on the IETC," he says. "I would have never imagined a state-run agency to be so attuned to the needs of our business; they’ve done a terrific job of bringing everything together under one roof." And the future of IETC’s operational improvements look even brighter.
The experience of two other employers with the IETC’s programs demonstrates the flexibility available to companies and job seekers. "The Jewel Companies have used the IETC as an extension of [its] HR department," says Samuel Hill, southern region human resources manager for the supermarket giant with headquarters in Melrose Park, Illinois. "We’ve worked with [IETC representatives] in filling many positions, especially as new stores are opened and for referring qualified young people to our Hire the Future program. More than 50 percent of our employees work part-time, and the IETC has helped us select candidates who are well-qualified for that program, which now includes more than 1,700 participants."
The IETC also provides access to quality training and trade readjustment programs that benefited Feldman Printing in Peoria. "We were able to hire two employees who were very experienced from having worked for more than two decades with a previous employer and who both have a good work ethic," says Terry Feldman, president of Feldman Printing. "From their previous jobs, both individuals were experienced in specific printing applications, but their skills didn’t match our needs in the graphics industry. However, we were able to enroll these two individuals in training programs and pay them the wages they were accustomed to because they qualified for the 50 percent reimbursement through the federal Trade Readjustment Act. The IETC staff in Peoria helped us attract two good employees who also benefited from the retraining," he adds.
These kudos represent the hard work the IETCs have put in over the past four years. But statewide, the network is planning more changes to assist employers in finding the people they need for area jobs.
The IETC plans more changes to help employers. Moving forward, the integration of Illinois’ workforce and employment efforts will continue on two levels: conceptual and physical. Once the program comes full circle and communities have completely bought into the concept, an increased level of coordination will develop among businesses, schools and workers. IETCs will foster these relationships on a local basis, by setting up satellite offices at community colleges, by working more closely with high school guidance counselors, chambers of commerce and other socially minded organizations. This is a primary goal of the IETC Network in the coming years.
On a physical level, the state plans to continue its investment in technology, including the implementation of faster, more capable local area network, wide area network and Internet technologies. This sort of integration, on one hand, will increase communication and data sharing among agencies and between local service providers. On the other hand, it’s Illinois’ vision that someday every HR manager in the state will first turn to the IETC Network when looking to hire, no matter what kind of position he or she is looking to fill. To make this vision a reality, the IETC Network is exploring technology-driven options that would allow employers the ability to directly access IETC databases to conduct their own recruitment searches. Moreover, the IETC Network’s relationship with local colleges is expected to infuse an even greater number of skilled applicants into the database.
The physical and conceptual reorganization of employment and training services nationwide is indicative of a new sort of thinking among state agencies—they’re realizing they must learn to act like a business if they’re going to become an effective source of support for the employers they want to serve. In Illinois, this has meant streamlining client services and making them easier to access and painless to use; infusing technology to drive connectivity; consistently monitoring client satisfaction to benchmark progress; and establishing partnerships with local employers, educators and other employment/training service providers.
For interested human resources managers, there perhaps has been no better time to begin exploring the options available from the public sector. During these fledgling years, employer support and suggestions can play an astoundingly formative role in developing the kind of recruitment resource that HR managers can rely on for years to come.
Workforce, May 1998, Vol. 77, No. 5, pp. 35-42.