By Vicki Morgan and Thomas Montgomery
What do you do? Crew Dispatch is screaming they can't crew their boats because HR won't hire any people. Operations Managers and Port Captains complain that the people you hire don't know anything, so why can't HR hire more experienced people? Your general manager wants to know why we can't keep people, and the CFO wants to know why the hiring costs are so high.
Ever heard these complaints? If you have worked in the river industry, I bet you have. The justification being that "no one wants to work," or "we just can't find good people." Comments like these reflect problems in the hiring process that begin with poor sourcing.
It's amazing that companies will spend substantial amounts of time and money to hire a manager or mid-level executive, but skimp on positions that are fundamentally more important to the business. Most executives understand that people are an essential part of their competitive advantage, but don't think critically enough about hiring the best quality people for entry level positions. Because these positions have the highest level of turnover, executives and business owners feel they shouldn't waste a lot of time and money on hiring for them.
Hiring talented entry level employees allows them to learn your business from the ground up and gives them unique insights into problems that affect your operation. This is fertile ground for innovation and ingenuity. Further, if you consistently hire the best talent for entry level positions, over time you will build a workforce of talent - a significant competitive advantage. By adopting this approach, one employer took their turnover rate from 120 percent to 18.2 percent and markedly improved their safety statistics and boosted productivity.
Some HR professionals think simply posting a job on a job board is sufficient to source talented applicants - it isn't. This assumption spawns a string of problems that manifests themselves in high turnover, poor safety performance, attendance issues, and a host of other related HR issues.
But more directly, sourcing problems cause selection problems, because poor sourcing limits the available pool of talented applicants. The more applicants you receive, the more talent you have to choose from and the better selection you can make. Posting an ad in a newspaper might get you applicants, but as a single means of recruitment, you grossly limit the variety of talent to choose from.
How and where you source is somewhat dependent on the type of operation you run. For example, if you are a fleet that works a dinner bucket schedules or a shipyard that works an eight-hour shift, you are pretty much limited to a drive time of about 45 minutes or closer. Conversely, if you are a live-a-board operation or a fleet that can provide accommodations for crew members, you can expand your geographical recruitment area significantly. Just because you are a fleet or facility, however, doesn't mean you limit your applicant pool. It just means you have be creative in your sourcing.
Finding Applicant Pools
Finding sources takes some thought. First, you have to decide if you are looking for strictly experienced applicants. There are both advantages and disadvantages to this approach. The biggest advantage is that you save money on training costs, but a big disadvantage is that you again you limit the available pool of talent. If you have a number of positions to fill, limiting your talent pool to experienced applicants may not be a good idea. If you are willing to train talent, then you expand your pool. But, you still have to find compatible talent pools and recruit from them.
Finding talent pools takes a bit of effort. First consider the job, its characteristics, work environment, shift, physical requirements, etc. Then, match these characteristics with jobs that have similar working conditions and environments. For example, let's take the job of a deckhand that works a dinner bucket schedule. Think about what the job requires. Deckcrew must perform heavy, physical labor, outside, in all types of weather conditions. They must clean, cook, and maintain the vessel and have some spatial ability to understand laying rigging. Once you've identified the job requirements, think about jobs that have similar characteristics. For example, construction workers do similar types of work activities as deckcrew. Consequently, they could adapt more readily to the work and environment.
Once you've identified compatible jobs, you can develop a recruitment strategy. For example, a common recruitment source for the construction industry are trade schools because many of them have programs on construction trades. If there are schools that teach construction trades, are there schools that have deckhand programs?
Job referrals are another applicant source in the construction industry. Establishing a referral process is easy to implement and can produce high quality applicants. A word of caution, however, with a referral program. If you're looking for talent, sometimes this strategy will produce applicants that aren't of the caliber you desire. It's important to establish clear expectations on the type of applicant you will consider.
A key source for quality talent is military veterans. Here again, however, it's important to match job experience with job requirements. Let's take the deckhand position again, and consider those types of military jobs that share similar types of working conditions and environments. For example, military experience of infantry, Boatswain Mate, or flight line experience are a few examples of jobs that share vessel working conditions and environments.
While sourcing applicants is a key part of the hiring process, it does not end there. Effective sourcing only provides you with an adequate pool of applicants. You still must determine what strategy to use to recruit, educate, and select potential hires. Each stage requires diligent efforts, but if you begin with an adequate pool of qualified applicants, finding those stellar employees that can help your company grow and develop is much easier and the benefits to your company, over time, will be notable.
Vicki Morgan is the Chief Operations Officer for Inland Rivers HR. Vicki has over 20 years of Human Resources experience in manufacturing, distribution, and transportation. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology from Tuskegee University and received her SPHR in 2008. Prior to joining Inland HR, Vicki spent more than 20 years in Human Resources which inlands 12 years in the river industry.
Thomas Montgomery is the President and Chief Executive Officer for Inland Rivers HR. He holds a doctorate degree in business administration and has over 30 years of Human Resources experience in industries such as telecommunications, marine transportation, education, and government. Prior to starting Inland Rivers HR, Tom was the Director of HR for the country's largest inland marine operator.