A Tribute to Grassroots Recruiting Organizations

Recruiting is always in the process of being reshaped and redefined. New technologies, techniques, and processes are continually being evaluated and tested. Grassroots recruiting organizations ó which come in a variety of shapes and sizes ó play a vital role in sharing information, best practices, and even candidates among the best in our industry and our markets. What follows are the stories of two such organizations: the Washington State Association of Healthcare Recruitment (WSAHCR) and the Northwest Recruiters’ Association (NWRA). I hope that these stories inspire you to get involved with or start your own local recruiting organization! Healthcare Recruiting: We’re All in This Together The shortage of healthcare workers is reaching staggering proportions, a problem not only for those in the industry, but for everyone who will need hospital care in the next 10 years. Whether we’re having children, caring for a sick loved one, or in need of care ourselves, the levels of patient care due to overworked and understaffed hospital workers and the rising costs will eventually have an effect on all of us. Healthcare recruiters are truly on the front lines of this crisis ó even small hospitals and systems have hundreds and often thousands of RN and other openings to fill. In a previous article I published, How to Win the Healthcare Talent Wars, I discussed the lessons learned from the IT talent wars and how competitors in the healthcare industry are banding together to reach common goals. Organizations like the Georgia Hospital Association have successfully combined several organizations’ resources to promote careers in healthcare and achieve common goals. Recently, I got to see this type of cooperation in action at a Washington State Association of Health Care Recruitment meeting. The group, which has been in existence since 1983, provides a forum for healthcare recruiters to discuss their current challenges, share best practices, and even trade horror stories (usually about having so many openings to fill with so little budget). In some ways, WSAHCR acts like a support group ó recruiters come away knowing that no matter how challenging their jobs get, they’re not in it alone. Judy Shorr, a nursing recruitment manager from the University of Washington Medical Center, has been with the group since it’s inception. She’s seen the group grow from a meeting of three or four people to filling a larger meeting room with representatives from almost every major healthcare organization in the Seattle area. “We often don’t have enough chairs now,” she said with pride. At the meeting I met Steve Houston, a recruiting manager from Southwest Washington Medical Center, who had made a three-hour drive from Vancouver, Wash., to make the 9:00 a.m. meeting. “There’s really nowhere else I can get the type of openness, information and support I can here,” he said. Over the years, the scale of the WSAHCR’s initiatives has grown as well. In 1992, the group became a member of the larger organization of National Association for Health Care Recruitment, which gives them the opportunity to hear about the initiatives from many other chapters and attend their national events. Many years ago, the Seattle Area Hospital Council and WSAHCR held a joint event at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center to help get local high school students interested in healthcare as a career field. They even had a former Miss America who is a nurse as their keynote speaker for the event. As Judy points out, the biggest obstacle to building a successful organization will always be finding the time to meet. “We’re all dealing with very scarce resources,” she said, “and it really pays off to help one another. But sometimes, with all of the demands on our time, it is difficult to meet. I find it very beneficial to share some of the key lessons I learn with my UWMC co-workers, which helps me build organizational support for my attendance and for the group as a whole.” Recruiting in the Northwest Seattle has always been a fiercely independent community and one that marches to its own beat. We generally shun large chain restaurants in favor of the quaint, unique, and quirky independents. A large statue of Lenin, a relic from the Soviet Union, graces the center of the artistic community of Fremont ó more out of a sense of irony than any political commentary. It should be no surprise that these same sentiments apply to a large portion of the recruiting community. The Northwest Recruiters’ Association is an independent recruiting organization formed six years ago, at the height of the IT talent wars. It’s an inclusive collection of in-house corporate recruiters and vendors in the Seattle area, all devoted to networking and educational opportunities within the recruiting industry. Trisha Bowen, a senior member of the recruiting team at Starbuck’s and the current president of the NWRA, discussed some of the different challenges facing recruiters today, and how the NWRA has adapted over time to meet these challenges. One of these challenges is the increase in layoffs in the recruiting industry. “With labor projections pointing towards huge shortages in the coming decades,” said Bowen, “we know that recruiting will again become one of the key issues in the new economy. The NWRA provides a forum to discuss how we can keep good people in the recruiting industry to weather the storm, and to stay connected with those that have left. Several of our members ó including me ó have found great new opportunities through this group. I can’t overstate the value of being professionally and personally networked.” But networking is only one facet of the NWRA. Another major initiative is education. Hundreds of attendees have shown up for events that featured speakers I’m sure you’re already familiar with ó industry experts like John Sullivan, Michael McNeal, Bruce Tulgan, and Yves Lermusiaux, to name a few. Their events are smaller-scale interactive forums in which they can take global best practices learned in some of the posts on this very website and apply them to the local recruitment community. Their past president of the last few years, Jason Warner, is credited with setting their sights incredibly high and delivering even higher in terms of the quality of the educational experience provided to the NWRA’s members. Despite the economic and recruiting downturn, the organization is doing very well. They will sponsor six educational events this year and hold two social events and one golf tournament (you’ll find me stuck in the sand trap). They are also giving back to the community through partnerships with the Seattle Jobs Initiative and Dress for Success, with portions of the proceeds from this year’s upcoming golf tourney going to SJI, and individual members contributing time, money, and job seeker training. Sarah Banks, who co-founded the NWRA with Lauren and John Pulse and Pam Golightly six years ago, suggests getting involved in an existing grassroots organization or local chapter in your community by joining the board or running for executive office. If nothing that meets your needs exists already, creating a new organization can be a risk worth taking. She promises that it will take time, hard work, and “seat of your pants” management skills, but the end result is an opportunity for local education and a set of relationships with your peers that cannot be duplicated anywhere else. What inspires me about these stories is that, regardless of the economy, these organizations are trying to create an environment in which we can learn from our peers, share best practices, and create personal and professional networks. As we evolve as an industry, grass roots recruiting organizations like the NWRA, WSAHCR, and of course the Electronic Recruiting Exchange, provide us with great examples of how, collectively, we can achieve so much more than we can individually ó even if we are competing for the same talent pools. I hope that you have the opportunity to contribute, get involved with, or start a local organization that accomplishes the same for you!

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Dave Lefkow is currently the CEO of talentspark (www.talentsparkconsulting.com), a consulting firm that helps companies use technology to gain a competitive advantage for talent, and a regular contributor to ERE on human capital, technology, and branding related subjects. He is also an international speaker on human capital trends and best practices, having spoken in countries as close as Canada and as far away as Malaysia and Australia. His consulting work has spanned a wide variety of industries and recruiting challenges with companies like Starbucks, Boeing, HP, Microsoft, Expedia, Washington Mutual, Nike and Swedish Medical Center.

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