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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

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Marketing to a New Audience: Potential Employees

by Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia, Inc.


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How to attract qualified job candidates amid a severe hiring crunch

The job market is tight. We don’t need to see news reports to know that our clients — our industry — is facing an employee shortage.

Even before the pandemic there was a dwindling pool of qualified technicians and drivers. Post-pandemic, staffing for many is reaching near-crisis levels. In 2018, 35% of dealers named “driver shortages” as a challenge during the December 2017-January 2018 polar vortex, according to the Gray, Gray & Gray Energy Industry Survey. In this year’s survey, “loss of service technicians” and “loss of drivers” were the “biggest business headache” of the last 12 months. These findings foreshadow frightening consequences if an extended deep freeze occurs this winter.

At first glance, this employee shortage might be surprising. As essential service providers, home energy companies were spared the widespread layoffs of other industries. Our offices may have temporarily gone remote, but our service technicians and drivers were on the road. These are good paying, secure positions, and most offer year-round employment.

On the other hand, these employees watched their family, friends and neighbors hunker down in relative safety, while they were on the front lines every day. Remote work was never an option for them. With “COVID-related personnel challenges” affecting 62% of companies in the Industry Survey, drivers and technicians clocked more hours and more overtime to cover co-workers who took ill or needed to quarantine. While most were grateful for job security and a steady paycheck, others started to question the hours, workload and lifestyle. Stress, long hours and danger are the crux of the burnout that led to the “Great Resignation” of 2021.


A Marketing Challenge

When marketing a company’s services, we look for points of differentiation. When marketing a company’s employment opportunities, we need to do the same. Before you submit another job listing to a recruitment site, ask yourself these basic marketing questions: Why would my target audience (in this case, potential employees) choose my company over the competition? How does my offer differ from my competitors?

Working for a home energy company has always been a good job. Most companies offer medical insurance, paid time off, sick and vacation days, employee discounts, 401(k) plans and more. Which is great – but if everyone is offering the same benefits, it doesn’t differentiate your company from your competitors who are likely enduring the same labor shortage and looking to attract the same job candidates.

So, how do you differentiate your company? First, understand that potential employees are now more concerned than ever with “work-life balance,” and many want greater compensation than they have been offered in the past. In addition to better pay, businesses may want to consider offering additional benefits to help “balance” the equation. Companies may have to set limits or exceptions for peak seasons or emergency/extreme weather events, but many have considered offering:

  • Changing scheduling patterns, so employees can work more, shorter shifts or fewer but longer shifts (subject to HOS regulations)
  • Making arrangements with childcare centers and private nursery schools or offering other daycare/childcare options
  • Expanding personal time off (PTO) policies
  • Adding or enhancing education benefits beyond industry-related coursework
  • And, of course, re-assessing salaries for current and incoming employees.


Short term, these benefits will increase the cost to your business. On the other hand, how much is being short-staffed costing you? (More on this later.) The great resignation has also been called “the great reshuffling,” reflecting the shift in employees’ priorities. Numerous reports have been released on this cultural change, with the same conclusion: post-COVID, workers at every level are reassessing how their work-life affects their relationship to families, friends, and, well, life-life. It’s our responsibility, as business owners, to acknowledge this shift and adapt, where possible, to keep our employees and their families happy.


Haystack, Meet Needle

Running counter to record “separations” — employees retiring, resigning, getting fired or laid off — is the fact that the U.S. is steadily adding more jobs than it is losing workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported net gains of more than 570,000 jobs in October 2021 and 5.9 million jobs over the 12 months ending August 2021. There are people out there looking for work. Your company is looking to hire.

Once again, let’s return to the question of how much your staffing shortage is costing you. Are you losing customers because of long wait times for service, in the field or in the office? Are you at risk of losing long-term, reliable employees because they are overworked and burnt out from unrealistic overtime? When you can determine how much a new hire would be worth to you, you can start to develop a recruitment marketing budget.

You should start your employee search with the tried and true: Classified ads in trade publications like Oil & Energy, outreach to industry training programs and postings to local job boards. Include some benefits, salary ranges, unusual scheduling (weekends/overnights), and even health and safety requirements. Then, get creative.


A Bonus Bonanza

There’s a restaurant group in New York’s Capital District that has been adding a “referral bonus” card in its takeout order bags. They are offering a large referral bonus if a customer directs a friend or family member to apply for open positions (or if the customers themselves apply). The bonus is paid after the new employee works 30 days, again after 60 days, and yet again after 90 days. These bonuses will keep the customer replete with free BBQ wings for more than a year, but the new hire will earn the restaurant much more than that, year after year.

Have you asked your customers if they know of anyone looking for work? Have you offered them a bonus for doing so, just as you would if they referred a new customer to you? While you’re at it, don’t forget to offer a comparable bonus to any employee who brings someone in, and add a signing bonus for your new hires.


Look Further

While looking for HVAC technicians, drivers, or office and warehouse staff, look beyond the industry. Many of you already work with veterans’ organizations, knowing that former servicemen and –women make excellent additions to your company. Many vets have mechanical training and/or commercial driving experience from their time in the service, and have already proven their commitment and reliability.

There are community leaders who are connected to the ebbs and flows of the neighborhood. Your local clergy, school principals, and health center administrators usually know which neighbors are looking for work. Without disclosing any sensitive information or private conversations, these contacts can still direct job hunters your way.

At the same time, you should be thinking about training for new hires from other industries – or even those with little experience at all but with the right attitude and personality.


New Outreach for the New Normal

You have now determined how much your new employees are worth to your business, developed benefit offers that can’t be refused, and decided to consider hiring from outside the energy and home service industries. Your “we’re hiring” sign is up, and every personal and professional contact has been asked to recommend prospects.

And?

If you are still looking for employees, consider advertising to them the way you would advertise a new service. Programmatic advertising offers multiple levels of targeting, and new platforms offer entry-level budget options and short-term ad campaigns. Gone are the requirements to spend thousands of dollars over six or 12 months.

With programmatic, you can pinpoint potential hires by education levels, interests (from cars and driving to home improvement, DIY and technology), credit card usage and hundreds of other filters. You can target individuals on sites and blogs with job-search related terms and those specific to your open positions, and then geo-fence your advertising to reach individuals near your local unemployment offices or community food pantry … or going to Starbucks at 2 in the afternoon. This advertising displays on their phones, laptops and home computers. These “consumer” recruitment campaigns put your “Help Wanted” notice in front of individuals most likely to be looking for work or considering a change.

The “Great Resignation” is yet another aspect of our “new normal.” Workers’ new mindset may last another year, or it may last for decades. Either way, the benefits and outreach we have reviewed will return your investment through better employee and customer relationships … which is just good business.

Richard Rutigliano is President of integrated marketing and communications firm PriMedia, Inc. He can be reached at 516-222-2041 or rrutigliano@primediany.com.


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