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Two Hot Button Recruiting Issues, Remote Work and Salaries

Posted by Kathleen Smith
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At the South Texas Human Resources Symposium, ClearedJobs.Net’s Kathleen Smith moderated a panel discussion with two GovCon recruiting managers, Bill Branstetter and Rachel Bozeman. They discussed government contractors’ key recruiting and HR issues since the pandemic.

While the federal government contracting market has continued to see growth despite the challenges of the pandemic, recruiters and HR professionals active in the community face increased competition. Consider the following insights to address remote work, post pandemic recruiting strategies, and how inflation factors into competitive pay.

Competing with Companies Offering Remote Work

Kathleen Smith: How do you compete with employers who offer remote work options?

Rachel Bozeman: That’s where you have to really lean in with what’s amazing about your company. Is it the benefits? Or the culture? We lean in very heavily into what makes us different. And we have those culture conversations that we know are so important to folks. They want to know they’re going to feel valued and heard.

Whether it’s our employee value proposition, diving into the surveys that we’re conducting, or letting them know about community outreach, all of those different pieces really can be that differentiator. We also have food trucks – the taco trucks are really popular. Ping pong tables and better coffee machines have also gone a long way. It’s about driving camaraderie and building that fun culture. Find what’s important and different about your company and sell that, because it is hard to compete with remote.

Kathleen Smith: Bill, you’re in an envious position, as 80% of your positions are remote. But when that’s not the case, how would you sell candidates on having to come into the office?

Bill Branstetter: I’d pay them more. And I agree with everything Rachel said. We talk a lot about how we present our mission, which is another thing that’s really important, especially to Gen Z. But at the end of the day, they have to pay their bills. You probably see on your rate cards, different rates for the government side versus the contractor side. So similarly, you’ve got to have different rate cards for what you’re paying your employees to be on site or not.

Making the Business Case for Remote Work

Kathleen Smith: How can you sell remote work to your employer if they are hesitant to offer it?

Bill Branstetter: Government isn’t quick to change the way they do things. So it’s a transition, but I think we all want to get the best candidates that we can. If you’re focused on a particular location, you’re missing out on 90 something percent of the available candidate pool – so it’s an easy sell. It’s explaining, we can get a much better person, and potentially for a cheaper price if we open it up remote.

Rachel Bozeman: I 100% agree. A lot of people left the big cities during quarantine. They were like, I’m out – I can go live in Iowa and it’s a lot cheaper. So being able to tap into those different markets really is a game changer. There’s still fear surrounding remote work, but I’m appreciating the shift in leadership saying, I didn’t have to pay a light bill that was a million dollars this month. They’re seeing those benefits, which is obviously leading them to think, maybe remote is not quite so bad.

Kathleen Smith: Selling remote comes down to making the business case, whether that’s being able to recompete, have lower utility bills, or not have as many sick days because your staff is at home able to take care of things. So how can we empower people to go to management or their proposal team and say let’s look at more remote options? They need to start having these conversations to be able to compete with others who are offering hybrid and remote.

Rachel Bozeman: Really tap into that business partner mindset. What are the objectives of the company? If EBITDA is the number one important thing that you keep hearing from your CEO, that should be your lead in where you drive these conversations. Where are the cost savings?

If someone told me I need you to go hire in Paducah, Kentucky. I’m going to go pull all of the stats. I’m going to be able to tell you the unemployment rate and what type of skills are there. That should be the same mentality you have when you’re getting these proposals put together. Say here’s what I can offer you by looking at this remote option.

Use the research that’s out there and have it in your back pocket, the same way you would with a market capacity study. Share the advantages that you can immediately offer to them and really lean into the priorities that your company is focusing on – that’s where your business points should align.

Bill Branstetter: It’s the data, right? That’s going to be what changes people’s minds. So collect that data in an exit survey asking people, are you leaving to go to a flexible or remote opportunity? Or even an employee engagement survey where you’re polling current employees. Then you can go to your bosses and say, everybody wants to work remote and this would be a good morale boost.

Improving Remote Collaboration

Kathleen Smith: What do you to think about collaboration in a remote environment?

Rachel Bozeman: I think the employee resource groups are going to be your saving grace. That’s a great way to build collaboration. From an overarching collaborative standpoint, I love the ideas that really bring the humanity back. Technology has given us some beautiful ways to communicate. You can see someone on webcam and you can have those important interactions with them. Whether it’s Microsoft Teams or Zoom or however you want to have those instant chats, we can still feel that level of connectivity. But the first few minutes of all those calls can’t be straight to business. It needs to be, how are you? Or, wow your dog has tripled in size since I saw him on the last video. Having those real kinds of conversations keeps that humanity, the same way the watercooler provides.

Bill Branstetter: The tech is there. Just imagine you got everybody in a room on their laptops doing their own thing, versus everybody’s in a virtual room where somebody’s sharing the screen. We’re all on the same document at the same time. I feel like the collaboration can actually be easier and more efficient if you’re doing it virtually. We use Microsoft Teams, but there’s a lot of tools out there that make it like magic.

Kathleen Smith: Also, have fun with it. Rachel and I had never met in person until yesterday, but we became colleagues and friends over the last two years online, so relationships still can develop. At my company, we’ve also done 15-minute virtual parties. We were an entirely remote company prior to the pandemic, but now all of a sudden we had chances to get together virtually for something special like a holiday or birthday. We’ve also put together videos to celebrate things like a 20-year anniversary with the company. So fortunately, the creative technology is out there to have that same kind of spirit within the company even in a remote environment.

Shifts in Recruiting Strategies

Kathleen Smith: Can you describe what your recruiting strategy was like before the pandemic and how it has evolved?

Rachel Bozeman: I think pre pandemic, we could post and pray. You posted a job and you had candidates that were coming to you. Those days are gone right now. Our strategy changed to preparing our recruiters to be able to speak to the career, to engage, and be able to close the deal. We’re going out there to find candidates, but then also nurturing that relationship. They’re not just coming and beating on our door anymore. It’s also influencing our hiring managers to say, you can’t have candidates jump through 14 hoops, spin around and touch their nose.

We really pivoted that overall strategy. And in the remote environment, what matters to them? How can you sweeten the pot? Maybe it’s offering something like subsidizing their internet cost. So, it’s being creative with some of those pieces.

Bill Branstetter: I’m actually working on a training for all of our hiring managers. The old school mindset is, why should we hire you? The hiring manager was in the power position and that candidate desperately wanted a job. Now we’ve got to change the way our hiring managers think – they’re now part of the sales team.

We’re also making an animated whiteboard video on our company culture and why someone would want to work here. That’s one more thing that I can include with job postings or when I’m reaching out to candidates. Here’s the job description, and watch this two-minute video about why it’s a great place to work. We really are trying to grab their attention and be different from the 20 other companies that are reaching out to them.

Kathleen Smith: Another shift we saw due to the pandemic was the need to train hiring managers and recruiters how to do virtual interviews. There was a huge gap in the beginning, knowing how to turn on the camera or how to have a good presence on video. Those are all part of engaging the candidate. It’s beneficial to take the time now to go and train your hiring managers and recruiters how to do all of this virtually. Make sure that the people who are interacting with your candidates feel comfortable and know how to really engage with the candidate over video.

Bill Branstetter: We’re also moving towards pay transparency, where we actually put the pay ranges on all the job descriptions. We’re seeing a trend where if you don’t do that (and there’s good reasons not to – we don’t want to give our competitive advantage away to companies that are seeing what we’re paying people on a particular program so they can win it from us) you’re kind of a bad guy from the candidate perspective. At the end of the day, we’d rather be the good guys and maybe take the risk of losing that competitive advantage. There are some challenges to that, but that’s where we’re headed.

Inflation and Competitive Pay

Kathleen Smith: We’re running into inflation, and inflation versus the cost-of-living increases. If a company builds 2-3% in annual escalation in their bills, and inflation is 5-6%, employees are basically getting a functional pay cut every year they stay on the program. If you want to have that recompete and retain that talent, you’ve got to think of something else to do. As Bill said, Government contracts don’t move very quickly and most of us have taken on contracts that are five to seven years. So how do you stay competitive?

Bill Branstetter: Our company was organized into business development and delivery. The BD people just want to win. They’re like, good luck on the positions at these low rates. On the delivery side, it’s that constant tension of, you can’t bid it this low – you’ve got to adjust for inflation and rising benefit costs. BD says, well we’re not going to win if we do that. So, you have to go to somebody that cares about both delivery and business development and make the case.

With inflation I think the numbers were just seven and a half percent. Then with benefits costs, we’re doing our renewal and ours are going up 28%. If you say, what’s the average wage in the company, and what’s 28% if the employee eats all that—they’re getting a huge pay cut the longer they stay there. Tenure is not rewarded, and we all know the cost of turnover in terms of money, but it’s also in terms of morale. Who’s feeling the burden of that? We have to do something in response to those rising costs.

I think the question really is, what kind of company do you want to be? Every company says, we’re all about our employees, employees are number one. Well, that’s easy to say when the government’s stimulating the economy and there’s money all over the place, but when things get tight, that’s a true test.

And who meets that squeeze? Is it the business? Is it the employee? Do you split it? If you’ve got a profit target and it’s 12%, do you say okay this year we’re just going to have to be fine making 8% and we’re going to give that 4% back to the employees. These are conversations that somebody needs to have, and it’s probably you. I don’t know that anyone else is tracking these things on the radar about employment costs and trends, so you’ve got to have that conversation and be a true HR business partner with your executive team.

Kathleen Smith: I really liked what Bill said, you’ve got the BD department and then you also have the delivery department. Have you explained to the proposal team or the BD team, that you will not win the recompete if you can’t fulfill your obligations on your first contract? You will be going after new business again, and usually going after new business is anywhere from an 18 month to two-year process. If you don’t listen, as far as what is going to maintain this talent pool and maintain our people on this contract, you are going to have to go after business again, and you’ve just lost two years.

Go back to the business case of we want to be able to maintain the recompete and maintain this business. We don’t want to eat into our profit margin by having to go after new business because we lost this contract. And we all know that in this business, if you’re constantly losing contracts or you’re constantly losing recompetes, that’s going to affect your ability to go after new business.

Rachel Bozeman: I think for me, it’s just about the employee at the end of the day. Sometimes you just have to stop and do the right things. Looking at the price of gas, do we need to give out gas cards for those that are coming to the office? If they’re remote, what are other ways to incentivize? It’s understanding the needs of the employees, and just meeting them.

What we’ve done is make sure that we’re following through with our commitments. If we’ve committed to an annual bonus, there will be an annual bonus. We’ve just changed our 401k to match a full 6%, because that’s important. We want to invest in the future. It costs somewhere else, but maybe some of that cost was offset by not having to pay that light bill. So, listen and take care of your employees.

Kathleen Smith: We’ve talked about the employee value proposition, we’ve talked about making it a community, we’ve talked about culture, but the companies that have succeeded throughout the pandemic are companies who really took care of their employees and really listened to them. This is a really great time for HR and recruiting to step up to the leadership position and say, we want to maintain the team that we have, to be able to continue delivering the value that we’ve been delivering.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 09, 2022 10:50 am

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