Have corrections professionals gotten smarter in the area of employee recruiting? Top correctional agencies focus on understanding the dynamics associated with continuously improving their recruitment and selection processes to meet short-term hiring goals as well as long-term strategic goals.
While traditional recruiting activities play important roles in the process, advances in technology have opened the door to new methods, such as the Internet, which is available 24 hours per day, and are becoming more prominent in the human resources professionals' tool kit. Research clearly demonstrates that many more applicants are finding positions through the Internet. In 1996, there were only 11 percent of employers using Internet recruiting, (1) compared with 96 percent in 2001. (2) In addition, Web-based human resource management and automated screening of applicants is evolving, as is applicant recruiting.
The private sector has probably observed and implemented most of the innovative changes during this 21st century. However, the public sector and, in particular, correctional agencies are beginning to realize the power of the Internet to meet recruiting challenges. While some agencies are in the beginning stages, all state correctional agencies currently have operating Web sites.
With Web sites in place, agencies must use the Internet to maximize potential gains in reaching prospective candidates from Web site job postings. A recent Nielsen NetRatings study found that an estimated 151 million individuals across the nation accessed the Internet at least once in January 2004 for 40 minutes on average. The global power of the Internet is an important recruiting instrument to help agencies deal with the future employee and talent famine.
The Internet can be a driving force in agency recruiting strategies. While it may require an investment to develop a system, it will all pay off given the fact that agencies will have the ability to automate candidate screening and tracking, manage a larger volume of resumes and applicant information, and streamline the recruitment process. Large-scale recruitment and more efficient processing can produce more quality candidates. This is especially true for younger workers and those more technologically advanced who may be looking for an exciting job opportunity. Systems with various rural facilities also could benefit from expanding the recruiting net.
The Job Applicant's Perspective
It is important for human resources staff to look at the agency's Web site from the perspective of a potential employee. Since correctional officers represent 50 percent of all staff and the position's classification had a national turnover rate of 16.6 percent during 2001, (3) it is appropriate to focus on that classification.
What would an applicant for a correctional officer position look for on a Web site? Presumably, the applicant would like to know what the job of a correctional officer entails, the basic qualifications, requirements, compensation, benefits, job openings and how to apply (preferably online).
The old style of hitting the streets looking for a job is gone. Today, job seekers can simply sit down at their computer and search for that perfect job. Applicants can search many Internet job boards, most having a resume builder and a format to post a resume. Internet usage facilitates movement of younger Americans from job to job. A national study by the Bureau of Lab or Statistics found that the average number of jobs held by those in the workforce who were between 18 and 32 years of age, was 8.6, with most job changes taking place between 18 and 22 years of age. This continues a process observed for those born from 1957 to 1964, now age 40 to 47 who held 9.6 jobs from ages 18 to 36.
In the past, hiring staff required finding the person who impressed the interviewers. But today, prospective employees seek information from interviewers to see if the managers and organization are a good fit. Skilled applicants may have several offers of employment from which to choose. Therefore, it is incumbent on the organization to show the applicant that it offers a work environment that meets the applicant's interests and career objectives. (4)
As J. Leslie McKeown, author of Retaining Top Employees, puts it, recruiting for retention entails an understanding that employees are making the choice as to whom they wish to work with. Additionally, even though many employees will come to the organization looking for skill development and learning opportunities, they will leave after a period and that will lead to a need for continuous training and development of staff. The concept also requires employers to realize that "compensation is only one reason why employees stay, and that it's often secondary to their personal and career development," McKeown notes.
Finding the Brightest Applicants
Recruiting and retention success depends, in part, on clear and up-to-date job descriptions. Talented prospective employees will be contrasting their skills against an agency's job requirements. If they come to work for a particular agency and are able to use their skills, they are likely to be more satisfied and remain with that agency longer. While there are a number of reasons employees washed out during their probationary period, the most often cited were poor screening practices and no pre-employment measures of actual job skills. (5)
Organizations reap what they sow. There is no longer a period when effective recruiting is not critical. Effective organizations are constantly searching for exceptional candidates to fill future openings. Many organizations are in a fierce competition for talent and most seek to hire the best and brightest applicant available.
Given the costs involved, recruiters must be cognizant of the various ways candidates may be located. Upon finishing an assessment of the job skills, education and traits required, note where the best possible candidates can be found. According to Finding, Hiring and Keeping Peak Performers: Every Manager's Guide, by Harry Chambers, the best way to recruit is to focus efforts where there are large numbers of the best candidates who probably would want to work at the organization.
According to Chambers, successful strategies include:
* Recruiting within eight hours of the work location;
* Providing a relocation allowance;
* Giving the candidate information to share with significant others (e.g., compensation and benefits);
* Identifying current employees they may wish to talk to;
* Providing an opportunity to see the work location, assisting in their job search efforts; and
* Providing details relating to housing, schools, services, etc.
Evaluating Agencies' Web Sites
Jane Lommel, president of Workforce Associates Inc., points out in her article "Evaluating Job Searching Web sites," (6) that there is an important set of factors to consider when developing a Web site. These factors include general site features, design, layout and job posting/resume functionality.
In an effort to assess the progress of agencies toward the goal of being able to cast a wider net to recruit the limited number of talented, skilled staff within a very competitive environment, all the state correctional agency Web sites were reviewed. In this study, state correctional Web sites were rated according to established standard job search criteria. Upon reaching the Web site's home page, each site was reviewed for the basic qualifications for a correctional officer, position requirements, pay and benefit information as well as an application to download.
Each piece of information was easily located (i.e., less than four page transfers after the home page) in 20 percent of the state DOC sites. Those states include Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas. The ability to apply for the position of correctional officer online was available in 42 percent of the states and 52 percent of the DOC sites continuously accept applications. (Note: At the time of this research, the Hawaii site was under construction and information about correctional officers was in the process of being posted on the Rhode Island site.)
In reviewing the Web sites, several noteworthy observations were made. Besides having a well-laid-out Web site, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has a position for a part-time correctional officer who works 20 hours per week. While part time, hours worked are negotiated between the officer and the unit warden. They also have the option of temporarily switching to full-time employment once per year. This permits those who are working part time while in college to work full time during the summer break. With excellent pay, benefits and flexible work schedule, the part-time correctional officer employment program is perfect for many applicants.
Additional features were located at the very accessible Oklahoma DOC Web site. The Temp-Cop Program is available for those who wish to work part time and with flex schedules (32 hours or more per week). Program participants receive a competitive salary, on-the-job training and workers' compensation coverage among the program benefits. Oklahoma also has established a relationship with a local college and is offering on-the-job training for veterans while they perform a job and earn wages, as well as receive GI Bill benefits.
This innovative program, which is not prominently displayed on the site, lets veterans know about on-the-job programs they can pursue. Finally, Deborah K. Boyer, human resources administrator for the Oklahoma DOC, has provided an excellent recruitment summary that identifies strategies and processes to meet its staffing demands. This summary also includes a number of useful human resources-related Web sites.
Many sites include pictures of smiling staff engaged in work activities or displaying the agency uniform. This breaks up the monotony of a text-only site and presents a positive image of the staff and organization. While English language skills are a prerequisite for employment, agencies are encouraged to reach out to the growing Hispanic workforce with a Spanish language version of the career portion of their Web site.
In addition, some sites use technology very effectively. The Georgia site has some of the most high-tech displays of all the state sites, with a 360-degree virtual prison tour, an excellent career orientation video and a recruitment video. Arizona also employs a video approach with a link to a "Careers" PowerPoint show about the agency and the position of correctional officer. There are even some new approaches to selection identified on the North Carolina and Ohio sites. They use video testing for correctional officer applicants. There are several additional state DOCs and many jails employing this same technology.
An agency's site also should permit the sorting of job listings by type of position and geographical area, thus making it easier for candidates to find the jobs that match their skills and preferences. Most of the agency Web sites could also benefit from installing a resume builder, as is available on the Oklahoma DOC site. Statistics show that if the agency has the ability to track Web site visitor traffic patterns, they can modify the site to improve their recruiting ability.
To ensure that the site is properly established, it may be necessary to hire a consultant if in-house resources are not available. In that event, human resources staff should write and provide Web site text. As part of keeping the site current, a staff member must be assigned to review the site weekly to ensure job listings are up to date and the site is operating correctly.
The majority of the Web sites lead into the position information with the word "Employment" or "Employment Opportunities." The finding that was most interesting was the lack of training information for prospective employees. Only eight sites had adequate information regarding pre-employment training and eight others briefly discussed training.
Another part of the process is to identify usual keywords used by job seekers. Most search engines are now scanning the words on Web site pages to identify, select and display a page during a search. Careful text usage is now required to get a site noticed by the various search engines, bringing candidates who enter certain keywords as they search for "correctional officer employment."
In searching for "correctional officer employment" using Google, the nation's leading search engine, the first page of 10 sites, out of five pages checked, listed the Florida DOC site with the most hits (three). The Texas Web site had the most total hits counted with 10 out of 50, followed by Michigan with five (see Figure 1).
In addition to using the Web to seek qualified applicants, the Pennsylvania DOC has added a new dimension to cyberspace recruiting. Corrections human resources specialists would say that it is often very difficult to find and attract qualified minorities and females to work in rural facilities.
After pondering this problem for years, the Pennsylvania DOC requested and received a grant from the National Institute of Justice, through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime & Delinquency, to fund the design, construction and equipment of a state-of-the-art Mobile Recruitment Unit (MRU). This unit has high-tech computers and accessories on board. The idea of the MRU, which was dedicated Oct. 20, 2003, is to take cyberspace to those who do not have their own computers and those who are not Internet savvy.
Job applicants can step into the MRU, which is compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act, to search for vacancies, apply for employment and submit their applications online. In addition, applicants can take advantage of the MRU's capabilities to display DOC career orientation and recruitment videos. There also are PowerPoint shows about the DOC and its various job classifications.
Ten Strategies to Improve Internet Recruiting Success
* Evaluate the Web site from the perspective of a job applicant.
* Provide current job descriptions.
* Provide basic qualifications and requirements.
* Provide benefit and compensation information.
* Post job openings as soon as possible and assign staff to monitor the Web site.
* Evaluate screening practices.
* Provide a resume builder, online application and electronic submission capability.
* Use automation to enable continuous applicant engagement and tracking.
* Use technology and photos of staff to present the best image of the agency and facilities.
* Use action keywords in Web site text to draw in applicants.
Before the MRU, the DOC spent a large amount of money attending numerous job fairs, but with the advent of the unit, the department will cut its job fair cost almost in half this year. With the MRU, every day is a job fair, and better yet, the department no longer has to pay for the high cost of recruitment booths at conventional job fairs. The MRU has been and could be used for conventional and unconventional recruitment events. The unit initiative reaches a wider audience, improves recruitment, the agency image and employee ownership of the initiative, and develops a larger pool of candidates for hard-to-fill positions.
The Future in Recruiting
A recent study (7) by Best Practices LLC, regarding recruitment and selection, strengthened the understanding of the need to establish and maintain recruitment and selection as an ongoing core business process to promote constant improvement. Companies involved in the study make recruitment a continuous priority, developing systems to promote smooth processes to identify, screen and select staff. The processes are designed with performance measures so outcome effectiveness is evaluated. Some of the key elements that top companies employ include automated screening, improved forecasting of trends and needs, tracking, and operation of useful advancements.
Confronted by a dwindling labor force and competitors recruiting from the same talent pool, human resources administrators need to view the Internet as an integral part of their recruiting strategy. The Internet can help ensure the identification of an adequate number of candidates, and improvements in skill-to-job matching, which will improve retention. The use of sophisticated screening techniques and the aforementioned strategies to improve recruiting success will assist agencies in obtaining an adequate number of correctional officers to maintain the safety and security of the correctional facilities.
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(1) Drake, S. 1996. HR departments are exploring the Internet. HR Magazine, 41(12):53-56.
(2) Arthur, D. 2001. The employee recruitment and retention handbook. New York: AMACOM.
(3) Camp, C.G. 2003. The corrections yearbook: Adult corrections 2002. Washington, D.C.: Criminal Justice Institute Inc.
(4) Chambers, H.E. 2001. Finding, hiring and keeping peak performers: Every manager's guide. Cambridge. Mass.: Perseus Books.
(5) Levesque, J.D. 1996. Complete manual for recruiting, hiring and retaining quality employees. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall.
(6) This article is available at www.newwork.com/Pages/Networking/Evaluating%20online.html.
(7) Best Practices LLC. 2003. Driving growth through recruiting excellence: Best practices in recruitment and selection. Summary report available at www3.best-in-class.com/bestp/domrep.nsf/Content/BE431279220AC01085256DDA0056B4A9!OpenDocument.
Carl Nink is executive director of the MTC Institute (www.mtcinstitute.com), a research unit of Management & Training Corp., which operates private prisons and job corps centers. Nink retired after 25 years from the Arizona Department of Corrections, where his career posts included warden and assistant director of human resources. Raphael K. Chieke has worked in Pennsylvania government for 15 years, with the last six as the director for civil rights, equal employment opportunity and contract compliance for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. For more information on the MRU initiative, contact him at (717) 975-4905.…