Transcript: “Communicating the Workforce Need” – with Jessica Hiser
The Workforce Pulse Podcast welcomes Jessica Hiser, Director of Marketing and Advertising for Spherion Mid-Ohio and an expert in communicating workforce needs in the area. She has spent the last decade developing marketing strategies for job openings across Mid-Ohio.
CLINT: Welcome to the Workforce Pulse podcast. My name is Clint Knight. I’m the Director of Workforce Development at the Richland Area Chamber & Economic Development. We’re going to bring in a variety of guests to talk about the state of the workforce in mid-Ohio and how it relates to the state. We’re going to present opportunities, ideas, and resources to grow the workforce, talk about continuing to educate our workforce, and ways that we can work together. Made possible by the Area 10 Workforce Development Board, this is the Workforce Pulse.
All right, we’re here on the Workforce Pulse podcast with Jessica Heiser, Director of Marketing and Communications at Spherion Mid-Ohio here in the Mid-Ohio region. I almost said physically in Ontario, Mansfield, but you cover Richland County and surrounding counties as well, right?
JESSICA: Correct, good morning, Clint.
CLINT: I appreciate you joining us here. I’m excited to talk to you about this. We’ve worked together in the past, so this is an interesting topic to me when it comes to reaching job seekers, right? When you talk about what jobs you have open and you talk about the employers who are looking for jobs, so there are two sides to this.
Today I want to talk about the evolution of workforce communication, for the lack of a better term, I think we just made that one up. You’ve been doing this for 10 years. We were talking about this earlier this morning. One of the interesting things to me is that you’ve seen a change in how this works.
So, let’s talk about your background first. What you intended to do, what you went to college to do, and then how you landed in this type of work.
JESSICA: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. We actually have this program that we take into schools called Me, Inc., and I tell the kids there, and for those listening you might not know this, you’ve had the skills that will make you successful in the job someday since you were eight years old. Whether I realized it or not when it was time for me to go off to college, I thought, you know, I really like to talk. I love talking. What if I could get paid to do that and I was sort of encouraged by family and friends like yeah, you would be really, really good at that. You should give that a go.
So, I went to college. I went to Indiana Wesleyan University in the middle of India, and I studied mass communication. My junior year of college, they grew the comm division and they added a public relations field. So, I ended up switching to public relations. I went a victory lap, 5th year, to kind of finish that major, but I ended up graduating with a degree in public relations, mass communications, and a focus with business organization and communications. So, I thought, I’d love to get paid to talk, but I really didn’t know what I was going to do with that. If you had asked me my junior or senior year, even when I switched to public relations, what I thought I would want to do with that career, I probably would have said, you know, I’d love to represent a company, and when there’s a big controversy or something, I want to be the one on TV to kind of explain what’s going on, and I think about that and I was like wow. That was brave. I do not want that job now, especially where the world has gone over the last several years.
So, I graduated and I just started applying for jobs. My first job was in the Cleveland area and I was hired essentially to kind of run the Facebook page for Serpentini Chevrolet and Montrose Auto Group out of the Cleveland area. And mind you, I graduated high school in 2005, so the first year of college for me was the first year that Facebook was open to anybody who wasn’t in Ivy League. Soon after that, everybody and their mom and their grandmas were on it and still are. We’ll talk about that a little later. But it was sort of something that I came of age with while I was starting my career path and trajectory.
So, when I graduated it was just like, hey, we think we know we need Facebook but we’re really not sure how to do it, and at that time nobody really knew how to do it and how to represent businesses. So, I did that for a couple of years. The organization ended up closing. I put my resume on CareerBuilder. I went in for an interview here locally with Beth Delaney at Spherion Mid-Ohio and she said, “you know, we’re trying to market these jobs. We do it on a weekly basis. I need somebody to handle this Facebook thing. You’re hired.” And I started in that role really just saying, OK, how do I bring these jobs to life? How do I create a Facebook page or a social media presence that makes sense? And over the last 10 years, we’ve grown to where we’re at today.
So, to put that story in the context of what we’re going to talk about over the next 20 or 30 minutes is there’s been an evolution over the last three to four years of how that works. Traditionally, job seekers were coming to employers, handing off a resume or filling out an application at the door, or they were calling employers, are you hiring? Or they were looking in newspaper ads to see help wanted. That’s completely changed now. The way the market has driven this, the employer is carrying the burden of marketing those jobs. You started doing that though 10 years ago a little bit. Granted, it was a little bit of different industry. You were working at staffing agency and you were actively recruiting for a wide variety of things. Talk a little bit about how you’ve seen that transition over the last decade, doing exactly what you do.
JESSICA: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I think 2020 actually also was kind of a reset button with that shift happening, and the line has been drawn, where it’s no longer an employer market, it’s an employee market. But like you said, working in a staffing agency, we’ve sort of been doing that for years, right? We are trying to say OK, why would you want to trust us to help you find a job, or let me pique your interest with this opportunity we have, and we are the front door to get this position, right?
So, our strategy all along, and what we’ve always done is, who is this job best suited for? What is the ideal person that is going to be successful at this job? What do they look like (as an employee)? Where do they consume their media? What things do they do in their free time? And we would cater that message to not only fit the selling points for whoever this ideal employee was, but deliver it in the place that we knew they were clicking or playing or living life. So that’s always been our strategy is to first say OK, it might be a simple entry-level job or a summer job for students, whatever that looks like. What is the narrative we’re going to tell to make it seem interesting to this person where they’re going to stop for a second and say, hmmm, I hadn’t really thought about this position or I didn’t know this existed. And then making sure that that message is getting to them because we’re putting it through the right channels.
CLINT: So, what type of tools are you using to do that? Traditionally I mentioned help wanted ads and then you have the Internet where there are national job platforms. When it started, you would list a job description. This is an accounting job. It works 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM or 4:00 PM. Whatever it is, you get those basic details. It seems now that you have the ability and tools to tell a completely different story. Tell the story in a completely different way. A lot more details. Not only that, but like you said you have those abilities to get to the people you want to find.
JESSICA: Right, the reality is, job boards have shifted where they truly are, for a long time they were the king of the crop, right? They were the ones that you were going to put your job out there, it was maybe the only way that somebody looking would find it. What we know now is that’s almost second tier or third tier. You are truly only reaching the ones who are actively looking in that moment with a job board.
So, if you put all of your eggs in that, well we posted it on this job board, that is not enough, because truly you are only going to connect with somebody who is on there searching. The reality is, yes, there are a lot of smart job boards where they’re going to say, OK, I can pull in your resume, your background, your experience, and this is a good match for you. But they don’t get to see the personality come out. They don’t really get to understand why that job is a selling point if they’re scrolling through a list of titles, or just kind of basic region or pay, that’s one of the major things that we know job seekers are looking at. You might not stand out in that sense.
So that’s the second to third level of what your campaign should be when you’re marketing and advertising for a job. The real thing you need to do is make sure you have a social and community presence. You’re telling your story. You’re showing your personality. That will sprinkle in the opportunity for job postings in those jobs when they’re available. But if you want to be successful in recruiting, you need to have that message kind of built and coming out first.
CLINT: So, you mentioned a social and community presence. So, most of us have a social media presence at this point. Whether we’re an employer, an individual, a group, everybody has something on one of the platforms, right? So, if an employer has a social presence and they’re working to tell their story on a social presence, what do you mean by a community presence? And do those two tie together?
JESSICA: Absolutely. So that’s exactly what you would want to showcase on it. The biggest mistake a lot of companies make, especially, they will have a social profile and say, OK, well, let’s set it and forget it or that exists there. And maybe they’re posting once a week or they’re just taking stock photos off the Internet and putting it on there and saying. You know, sorry, we are closed for Labor Day. Have a safe weekend, you know. Thank you too. Of those hard workers that are out there, right? So, it’s just very copy paste generic. The pictures don’t have anything to do with their industry or anything to do with their personality.
When I say you want to have an active social media presence and be involved in the community, you are bringing what you do on the outside, inside. When we started this podcast, I asked Mr. Aaron Hines to take a photo of you and I because I plan to put that on our social media page. I’m going to say, hey, this is what we were doing. This is how we were out and about and sharing our expertise and our workforce knowledge. Are you taking a time capsule or really showing your involvement in the community and showcasing that on social?
Equally, there’s a lot that we could go into with the community involvement, but you want to be able to give your employees something to connect with and be passionate about in the community, but you want the community to see your authenticity, boots on the ground, doing things around them, not just through a screen.
CLINT: So that can be a variety of things. Volunteer work, general marketing in the community, involvement with scholastics, anything that’s community related.
JESSICA: Yeah, and you don’t have to feel, OK. There are just six of us. If you’re a small company, we can’t do all of it. That’s OK. Find one thing and own it. Get one thing that you as a team can get really excited about and get involved in and do that as often as you can. You don’t have to spread yourself thin, but you can have a big impact in little ways if you make it part of your culture and you make it something that you repeat.
CLINT: I like that, you know, if you’re a small staff, identify one community activity and repeat it, right? And do it year after year, or several times a year.
So, just to back up a little bit, you’re talking about telling a story. You’re talking about telling your story as an employer. One of the things that we’ve seen in data and research over the last few years as we start to understand what the next generation of employees are looking for is company culture. What does it feel like to be there? What’s it going to feel like to be in the building and work? What is a way that you can talk about your company culture if it’s through social media or through job postings?
JESSICA: Yeah. So, culture is huge for our Gen Z generation, that is currently anybody born after 1996, so we have those that are still in, really, they’re in high school now, some middle schoolers, late elementary, all the way up to our youngest workforce.
Millennials, who were the hot topic, I’m a proud millennial, for many years are now your middle managers. We are in our 30s and early 40s and late 20s, so we’re really trying to target this Gen Z, if you’re thinking OK, I’m building my workforce. But equally, you still might want to try to attract some of these more experienced millennials if you are planning for baby boomers that are retiring, or you have some more opportunities within your organization where it’s not quite entry level, but you need to attract somebody to come over from that middle-level management.
So, you’re going to want to go where they are active, where they are on social, and we know for millennials, for those of us that were born between 1980 and 1996, we are on Facebook, Instagram. We’ve dipped our toe into some of the younger generation social, but really, those are our two main avenues still for social media consumption.
Gen Z is a whole different ballpark. They are on TikTok. They are on Snapchat. There is a new app that I just downloaded that is supposedly the new talk for Gen Z. It’s called BeReal. And the same time everyday they get an alert and you take a picture on your phone and it’s front screen/back screen. So, it shows whatever you’re looking at the moment, whatever you look like at the moment, there’s no chance for filters. There’s no chance for edits. There’s no chance for explaining what it is. And it goes out to the world, and they are eating it up, because the reality is Gen Z, they don’t want the mushy-gushy everything great. Here’s what we do.
They want that real. They want to know, OK, what makes this job hard? Don’t just tell me what makes it great. What’s tough? How do you problem solve? How do you work together as a team? What do the employees look like? Can they see themselves there? Can they see their friends and family there? If it’s not a culture that embraces different beliefs and ethnicities and different walks of life, most likely you’re not going to be attractive to Gen Z. They want to be able to feel like it’s a safe place for them to work no matter what they believe, no matter what their friends and community think, but also be proud to say hey, this is where I’m employed. So, it’s very important as an employer to start thinking, OK. If that’s who I need to reach, what changes am I starting to make to attract and retain this youngest generation?
CLINT: What information am I sharing? What type of information? Because I think one of the things that we’ve seen is that generation has consumed an incredible amount of information over the years and it’s more and more each year. You’re just telling me about a new, not a new app, but a new piece of an app that shares even more real-time information. And that’s what they’re looking for, right? They want to understand that company culture through all of it, through knowing all of it.
JESSICA: Yeah, and then on the flip side, they are active on Snapchat where the goal for that is just to have as many pictures a day of absolutely nothing, so they’re just sort of chasing this engagement or this number and they still really, they’re an anomaly in the sense of at the end of the day, they want that authenticity, but they also will ride the ride of, OK, well, we’re social natives, so this is what we grew up with.
But yeah, it’s very important to start to paint a picture where they can see themselves, but also understand what’s going to make them want to stay, because the shift that we’re living in right now that I mentioned a little earlier, where it’s an employee’s market, we know the reality that somebody can walk out of your organization today and find a job anywhere.
Most likely, what’s happening right now with this great resignation, is employees are actually leaving when they are pulled for a better opportunity, so it might not even be that they leave you and just kind of enter the workforce looking. They’re already working, and something else piques their interest and they jump before the need is there. So, what are you doing to attract and retain them? But at the same time, understanding that they could kind of jump for whatever is shining next. So, it can’t be enough to say, OK, this is good enough to bring them in. You need to now give them a seat at the table. Continue to ask questions of, what will make your day better? What do you like? How can we change? And be willing to hear that input and make changes when you’re able to.
CLINT: So, it’s developing that culture in response to what you’re hearing from your employees, from a retention aspect, right? And that’s you know, one of the questions we talked about in an earlier episode is. Is it more important? Should we put more energy right now in keeping the employees we have or finding new employees? There really is no answer to that, but retention is crucial right now.
One of the things we talked about in episode one with the Lieutenant Governor and also with Dr. Diab from North Central State was developing that pipeline of young people, specifically junior and high school students and telling your story to them so that they know what’s available to them in their region or in their state, in Ohio, if it’s Richland County, if it’s Crawford County, if it’s in mid-Ohio, in general. How do we get to them? When do we get to them is the most important thing. I know that you’ve done a lot of work with that. You mentioned Me, Inc. earlier. Can you talk a little bit about the importance of that and some of the efforts that you’ve put into that in the region.
JESSICA: Yes, so the idea of Me, Inc. started about seven years ago and at that time we were seeing our youngest workforce come in and they just didn’t have the soft skills to successfully stay at a job. We were hearing the feedback from clients saying, you know, there’s a piece of this missing. They would come in for an interview and it just felt like some basic things were being missed.
So, we saw the problem. We knew the solution and the thought was, why don’t we create a program that we offer to schools for free where we go in and we talk on soft skills. We talk on things they can start doing as soon as 8th or 9th grade to really prepare for whatever job or career they have, and it’s not really in depth of saying, OK, Jessica, you’re going to be in communication and marketing someday. It’s saying, OK Jessica, are you clicking into groups that you enjoy and are you volunteering? Are you making choices for the future? Are you practicing soft skills? It’s putting these things on their radar that are really just fundamental for success in any job.
So, what we have found and why I think the program has benefited us so much is I understand that this isn’t an active workforce when I’m going in to talk to these kids. 9th, 10th grade, I know I’m not going to be able to hire them and place them somewhere, but what I’m doing is I’m planting the seed, I’m introducing myself. I make a point to say hey, if you see Spherion’s billboards out there, if you hear us on the radio, that’s my job. Here’s a face to it. Let’s connect the dots here. There is somebody that that’s what they do. That’s their role.
I give them these kind of tasks of, notice us, and then I, you know, to be completely honest. I say follow us on social media. That’s where I know they’re at right now. So, we have a TikTok page. We have an Instagram. We have Facebook, but I’m asking them to engage with us. And I say we, we also offer these tips and resources to you on social. So someday when you are looking for a job, hey, we’re ready for you. So I’m planting that seed. I’m getting them to buy in really early on.
Understanding how fast apps are changing now, I’m moving with the wave of the generation, so it’s not just a one and done. You need to always be adapting that. But what we have found then is a) the schools are always really appreciative for this program that we’re bringing in. We are then able to go and recruit when we need to or hang flyers when it makes sense for graduating seniors or jobs that we have for students that are 16 and older, and then the reality is when they graduate, we hope that at some point they connect back to us.
CLINT: So again, it’s going to where they are first, right?
CLINT: Going to the school, presenting to them, and then working to stay in touch with them over time. And in the region, there’s been a lot of work to do that type of effort with Me, Inc., what you guys are doing with the CommunityOpportunity.com website, young people are able to set up a profile and follow the careers that are in Richland County, so if an employer goes on CommunityOpportunity.com, they can post a job or post their story, post their company story, a video, and the young people are able to explore that, and what the local universities are doing, backing up that coursework early into high school and allowing them to start building those credits towards a career.
JESSICA: Right, I was just going to say I think a lot of times we, especially the industry that we have here in mid-Ohio, a lot of it is manufacturing or big warehouses, or even healthcare. The reality is, those are some of our biggest employers in the region. But what I think we don’t do enough of is telling students that there are more opportunities within these buildings for really any avenue. There is marketing. There is accounting. There is front desk administration. There is leadership, right? We think of healthcare and you automatically think a nurse or a doctor, or you’re in this role where you are serving patients instead of all that might happen in the background.
So, I think as a community, and if we really want to retain our youngest employees to stay here, we need to be showing them these opportunities on a greater scale and not just saying, hey, here’s what this manufacturer produces, come work here, but really, explaining all of those levels and pieces.
The true reality is, a lot of those roles, especially for family-owned and operated businesses in this area, are probably at a place where some of those roles are retiring or they really haven’t thought about some of them before. So, it’s a great opportunity to engage in this younger workforce to start them at the beginning, like how my career started to get that buy-in, and then if you bring them up to grow with you, are going to have that retention.
CLINT: Retention in the community and the region, build the talent here, homegrown talent, is what we’re talking about. We’re going to spend a lot of time talking about that in the later episodes, or potentially in season 2 of this podcast. But that’s the effort, when you’re going back to as early as 3rd, 4th, 5th grade and talking about what type of technology or robotics programs, or opportunities exist right here in the county or in the region, to keep that talent here.
JESSICA: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s easy in retrospect to think, oh man, look at all these…if only I had known this opportunity existed when I was younger, I would have totally done that, but when you’re a student, I don’t think that has changed. They know their life as far as what they have lived yet, so they can’t comprehend, hey, this is on a track to get me successful in this job now.
So, that is our role as adults in the community, as parents in the community, to kind of say, hey, you know what you’re doing actually would be really great if you kind of do this, or we see this skill in you, let’s shift it and get your interested in this. You know, maybe there’s a young person who really connects with animals or they like animals and are we plugging them in to volunteer at the Humane Society? Are we giving them a chance to really see jobs in these industries of things that we know they’re passionate about and bringing them to the table with that, right?
So it’s not just to say, hey, we’re getting this information out there on job boards or social media. We need to give them those experiences too and really bring to light all the jobs that exist.
CLINT: And employers can be a part of that very early by creating those, whether it’s an internship, a short job shadowing, a two-week work experience during the summer, there are tons of opportunities for employers to get young people into their businesses.
I’ve always said that it’s just as important for us to help a young person understand what it is they don’t want to do as it is to help them understand what they do want to do.
CLINT: And I think that’s a great way to do that.
Jessica, I appreciate you joining us on the podcast today. This is great information for employers as they’re building their strategy and as they’re trying to tell their story and get to the employees.
In season 2, we’re going to focus a little bit more on the employees, and I think we can talk all day about this, but I’m interested in having you back in season 2 to talk to job seekers about how they can market themselves, how they can tell their story, and talk about what their skills are.
JESSICA: That would be awesome. Put me on the calendar.
CLINT: Awesome, thank you Jessica. I appreciate it.
JESSICA: Thanks Clint.
CLINT: Thanks for listening to the Workforce Pulse podcast. Make sure you subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts so that you can be aware when the next episode is available.