2001 Finding Better Ways Conference Presentation Recap
Responding to the Workforce Crisis: Strategies for Recruiting Agency Staff
Andrew L. Reitz
Trieschman Center for Consultation & Training
Child Welfare League of America
Both public and private child welfare agencies are struggling to address the many issues created by the current workforce crisis. While a great deal of effort must be devoted to retaining current staff members, agencies must also improve their ability to find and hire the skilled workers they need. Unfortunately, the tried and true methods of recruiting new staff are often not effective in the current environment. This paper will provide guidelines for maximizing the effectiveness of five recruitment strategies, including media advertising, college recruitment, current agency staff as recruiters, agency recruitment collaborations, and systematic screening of applicants.
While the standard 3-line newspaper ad for a youth counselor or social worker no longer produces results in most markets, advertising clearly remains a critical component of the overall recruitment process. The difference is that agencies must advertise much more than job openings. They must develop and perfect an overall advertising approach. This includes identifying the target audience, assessing what the agency has to offer prospective applicants, and designing advertisements that will reach and appeal to the target audience. In general, agencies report the most success when recruitment emphasizes the agency mission (e.g., "making a difference in the lives of children") and the opportunities for training, education, and overall career advancement that they offer. Pitching the challenging, but exciting, aspects of a child welfare job and a collaborative, team-oriented workplace have also been effective approaches in attracting applicants.
Newspapers continue to be the most frequent site for agency advertisements, but even in this arena many agencies have modified their approach. In addition to advertising in large, daily newspapers, agencies have had success targeting regional and local papers, as well as minority publications and those targeting specific audiences. Over the past five years, most agencies have also begun advertising on their websites, and many are now using one or more of the recruiting websites offered on the internet. Given current trends, internet recruiting will quickly become a major source of job applicants. Although television advertising has generally been dismissed as too expensive, some agencies have begun to have success with radio and cable television advertising. These outlets are considerably less expensive than major network television and also tend to target very specific audience demographics. Advertising in these outlets enables agencies to provide very focused ads that reach the targeted groups.
Colleges and Universities
Colleges and universities are a major source of future child welfare workers and, thus, an excellent site for recruitment efforts. Generally, the most effective strategies revolve around building relationships with the departments that are most closely related to the work that an agency does. The most direct approach is to bring students directly to the agency sites through practicum and internship placements. Other relationship builders include involving school faculty in agency research and evaluation efforts, using faculty as agency trainers, arranging for agency staff to speak at college classes on issues in the field, sending agency staff to the college for advanced course work, and encouraging qualified agency staff to serve as part-time faculty. In addition, many colleges have active and involved placement offices. The staff providing these services can also be very helpful contacts for agencies in their recruiting efforts.
Agency Staff as Recruiters
There are two significant advantages to using current agency staff (relatively happy ones, at least) as recruiters. First, they have direct knowledge of the job and are in the best position to describe its advantages and rewards to prospective applicants. Second, they also know what personal and professional skills are required to do the job well and are, thus, able to identify applicants who are most likely to succeed.
Agency programs that target recruitment efforts by current staff are most successful when they meet three conditions. Staff must be given some measure of training, direction, and support in their efforts. They must have brief, highly relevant recruitment materials available. Third, staff must be rewarded for successful recruitment efforts. A common plan for doing this pays staff a bonus for every person they recruit who actually signs on, and an additional bonus if that person remains with the agency for a year. These bonuses are most often monetary (and can range from as little as $50 to $500 or more), but they can also be in the form of gift certificates at area businesses, or some combination of the two.
Agency Recruitment Collaborations
While agencies tend to view themselves as competing with each other when it comes to recruiting new staff, they can also work together as collaborators when it comes to encouraging people to enter the child welfare field. In many areas, small groups of agencies and agency associations have begun to pool their recruitment efforts. Clearly, the pitch to applicants is somewhat more general than an individual agency's pitch would be. But a representative of several agencies can still speak about the general mission of child welfare programs, the kinds of opportunities that exist, and the career possibilities, as well as offer materials about a number of agencies at one time. Some collaborations have begun using a common application form across the participating agencies to make the process easier for applicants. This collaborative approach is especially useful for recruitment at community and school-related job fairs, enabling many agencies to be represented by a single staff person.
Screening to Find the Right People
One thing that has become increasingly clear as the workforce crisis has deepened, is the cost of a bad hire. Not only does hiring the wrong person mean that the entire process must be repeated, but it also wastes training and supervisory time and demoralizes current workers, often creating problems that can linger for months. As such, many agencies have begun taking a hard look at their screening and hiring practices to be sure they are hiring the right person for the job. Typically, this process requires at least the following steps: (1) complete a detailed job analysis and decide what skills and qualities are needed; (2) design a screening and interview process that specifically targets those skills and qualities; (3) train staff to use the interviewing and screening process; (4) ensure that prospective workers understand the nature of the job (both the good and bad points); and (5) wait for the right person, even if it means leaving a position vacant. Hiring workers that are the best fit for the job and the agency is an important first step in retention.
The workforce crisis has forced child welfare agencies to take a new look at how they recruit and hire staff. As a result, agencies are continually finding new and revised recruitment strategies that help them hire, not just enough workers, but the right workers for such difficult and challenging work. Ongoing innovation and refinement of practices in this area are critical if the field is to maintain its commitment to providing high quality services to needy children and families in the face of continuing workforce shortages.
- Alwon, F., & Reitz, A. (2000). The Workforce Crisis in Child Welfare: An Issue Brief. Washington, DC: CWLA Press.
- Rosenberg, D. (2000). A Manager's Guide to Hiring the Best Person for Every Job. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Andrew L. Reitz, Ph.D.
Child Welfare League of America
300 Congress Street, Suite 305
Quincy, MA 02169
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