Sandra Miles

Seeking top talent? Keep an open mind, Sandra Miles suggests

Three experts weigh in on what lies ahead for hiring the best people and keeping them around

To explain the future of recruiting and retaining talent, Sandra Miles uses her own hiring woes as an example. A few years ago, she was looking for a new staff member at Vancouver-based employment agency Miles HR, where she is president and CEO. After a thorough search, the best candidate didn’t have the skills and experience Miles wanted but showed the personality and drive she needed.

“We often see amazing talent that doesn’t fit the strict definition of what the job requires,” Miles says. “A lot of companies would overlook that person. I don’t think that’s the right attitude, especially as the job market tightens.”

It’s already hard to find employees for many in-demand positions. The provincial government’s 2018 British Columbia Labour Market Outlook predicts 130,000 vacant jobs in B.C. by 2028. In a job seeker’s market, every company needs a responsive recruiting and retaining plan, Miles maintains. That means throwing out the rigid rules and opening up to possibility: “The candidates that don’t check all the boxes often bring unexpected, extra benefits to the position.”

Instead of passing on the applicant, Miles had an honest conversation with her. “I explained that I was going to invest in training her for the job,” she recalls. “I told her it would be two years before I’d see a return on that investment. I asked her if she was committed to that timeline.”

The candidate repaid that frankness by turning down the job. It was disappointing for Miles, but far less than it could have been. “I think employers have to be curious and open to doing things differently,” she says. “If you’re not, you’re going to miss out on the best talent.”

Here are eight other ways to stay ahead of the competition when it comes to building and keeping a great team.

1. BUILD A BRAND

The culture of the brand is what will attract new talent, Miles notes: “It’s what you do, why you do it and how you do it.” If you create an open, responsive culture and communicate it to job prospects, people will want to work for you.

2. BE FLEXIBLE

Just because a position was structured a certain way before doesn’t mean it has to stay that way, says Tara Van Zuiden, an executive talent adviser and strategist with Deloitte in Vancouver. For instance, split a full-time job into two part-time jobs, breaking up the positions by skill set. This attracts people who can’t or don’t want to work full-time and creates opportunities for new candidates.

3. FLATTEN THE HIERARCHY

The next generation of employees grew up with transparency and teamwork at home, grade school and university. They expect the same at work. “The old hierarchical structure, the command-and-control relationship, is obsolete,” Miles says. The entire team should share wins, take on responsibility, work collaboratively and understand the company’s strategy.

4. SWEETEN THE DEAL

“When there are significant labour challenges, anything you offer out of the traditional realm is considered an edge,” says Arun Subramanian, director of industry HR development at go2HR, Vancouver-based staffing specialists for the tourism industry. Subsidized staff accommodation helped Sun Peaks Resort attract people in a tight housing and labour market. Meanwhile, one local business owner had a vacation home he let staff use. “It was not a big cost to him but was a huge benefit for employees,” Subramanian says. “But be authentic. Sleep pods, foosball and gourmet meals may work for Google, but are not a fit for many businesses.”

5. GET CREATIVE WITH BENEFITS

“What works for one person is not going to work for all,” Miles says of benefits. “Curated packages is the future. It’s a big ask, but there are little ways you can create individual value.” Younger employees might care more about free massages and a six-month sabbatical than life insurance coverage. An older employee might prefer training opportunities or help with a gym membership. Adjusting benefits throughout a career will help with retention, Miles says.

6. INVEST IN EMPLOYEES

Training staff not only benefits the company with more knowledge but also encourages them to stay. Opportunities to grow and learn keep a job interesting, and it pays off even when employees move on, Subramanian says. “They might go out and tell five people that it’s a great place to work.”

7. FORGET SECRECY

Compensation packages should be fair and transparent. “You can’t hide anything anymore,” Miles says. “Backroom deals are obsolete. It won’t be long before all salaries are posted online.”

8. AVOID THE GOLDEN HANDCUFFS

“People think you can’t have turnover, but when people stay longer than they should, it’s expensive,” Miles warns. “If they don’t care, it affects their performance, it affects their team, it affects the clients.” Encourage good staff to stay, but also know that new blood brings “new energy, new ideas and new ways of doing things,” Miles advises. “You need all those things to sustain and push a business into the future.”