Recruiting capable employees might seem like the last topic on a manager's mind during these days of downsizing.
But not everyone is slicing staff. Some companies continue to grow, and for them, finding the skilled, diligent employee remains a challenge.
"We still hear from employers the concern about finding qualified, competent people, and wondering if they've tapped all the resources that they could," said Ann Wolfe, vice president of the Baltimore office of Drake Beam Morin Inc., a New York City-based outplacement firm.
That might be a growing concern. Businesses foresee extreme problems in recruiting candidates with acceptable math and language skills in the year 2000, according to a survey of about 2,000 U.S. companies this year by Drake Beam Morin.
Today, 34 percent of the surveyed employers find it difficult to get entry-level candidates who can add, subtract and multiply accurately. More than half of the employers struggle to find applicants with good writing skills, according to the survey.
But, by being creative, companies can boost their chances of identifying accomplished candidates.
One way: back-file recruiting.
When human relations officials at Maryland Casualty, a Baltimore-based insurance company, seek new employees, they look through old job applications -- all saved on a data base -- for promising names. Often, it's not the applicant who attracts attention, but rather his supervisor or references.
By "advertising, you tend to get people who are looking for jobs, and that's good," said Louis Romano, director of employment for Maryland Casualty. "But to broaden that, it's good to get people who may not actively be looking now, and that's what making these contacts can do."
The company also relies heavily on research and networking to find capable candidates, said Mr. Romano, who noted that Maryland Casualty is now trying to fill between 40 and 50 positions. Many of the jobs deal with developing and marketing insurance products aimed at the small commercial business market -- a new specialty for the 4,000-employee company.
By perusing industry literature and talking to people who work in the field, Maryland Casualty is identifying a list of top prospects.
The corporation also has increased its contact with outplacement firms. When Maryland Casualty heard that Westinghouse's Linthicum-based Electronic Systems Group was downsizing earlier this year, for example, it listed a data processing job with Westinghouse's human resource department, which was providing outplacement services.
"This is a way of casting a wide net to attract as many candidates as possible," Mr. Romano said. "Then, we can screen them based on our needs."
Other companies invest in students. Liberty Medical Center, for example, offers a scholarship program in which nursing students can receive up to $5,200 for tuition and books per year in exchange for working at the hospital for one or two years after they graduate.
"This is a way to attract students to the hospital and, hopefully, to keep them here once they get here," said Cynthia Greene, recruitment and retention manager for the 282-bed acute-care hospital in Northwest Baltimore. The hospital, which is seeking 25 full-time nurses, has 20 students in its scholarship program.
By participating in a program designed to educate high school teachers and students about its company, the Baltimore office of Kaiser Permanente Health Care Program is following a philosophy similar to Liberty Medical's.
As part of the Maryland's Tomorrow Exchange Program, a project sponsored by the Governor's Workforce Investment Board, 15 teachers from Baltimore high schools visited the company's Charles Plaza Medical Center last month. They heard about the types of jobs and benefits Kaiser Permanente offers and the characteristics it seeks in employees. Next year, high school seniors from various schools will tour the company and will talk to employees about their jobs.
The project might draw some students to the company, and might also raise the caliber of job candidates, said Jeannette Duerr, a spokeswoman for Kaiser Permanente. Once teachers become aware of the attributes and skills employers seek, they might begin to point their students in those directions.
"We're very much a customer-oriented kind of organization, so all of our employees need to be oriented toward service," said Ms. Duerr, who noted that good communication skills and the ability to meet deadlines also are important.
Another recruiting strategy is the job fair. Every month, The Chimes Inc., a non-profit corporation that serves the developmentally disabled, runs an advertisement inviting job candidates to its Randallstown offices for a one-stop-shopping experience. During an orientation period, applicants learn basic information about the agency. Later, each is channeled to a representative from a particular division who talks about the vacant position and interviews the candidate.
The method is "a lot more efficient than regular interviewing, since many of the things that would take up a lot of time repeating over and over again to 20 or 30 job applicants can be done as a group this way," said Betty Ann Rigney, vice president for clinical services with The Chimes. "It allows us to spread our recruitment pitch over a wider number of people."
Ms. Rigney said The Chimes agency has filled 25 positions through its monthly job fairs, which it began holding in August.
If your company is desperately seeking skilled employees, you might consider an often overlooked population: the 50-plus crowd.
Those who are in the late stages of their careers can often make valuable contributions to businesses, Ms. Wolfe of Drake Beam Morin said.
The aging employee often "has a maturity in decision-making, and a level of patience that can bring about the right solutions to problems," she said. "He also has a wider repertoire of experience on which to draw."