What Owners Need to Know About Attracting A-List Talent – Rachel Knight

What Owners Need to Know About Attracting A-List Talent - Rachel Knight

Whether employment is low or high, there’s always a competition for the best talent. One of the ways you can set your business apart and help with the recruitment process is by employing videos. We sit down and chat with Rachel Knight of Destination Occupation, who shares tips and tactics for using videos and attracting the type of employees that will help you grow your business.

Rich: Our next guest received her Master’s from the University of Southern Maine and taught content area subjects – History and English – to students with disabilities. She also logged many hours helping students explore options for postsecondary opportunities, aka transition planning.

It was from that experience that the idea of Destination Occupation, the company she now runs, was born. She realized that teachers spend countless hours arranging visits to local businesses, college and other activities to create opportunities for students to explore career or postsecondary options.

But there are way more opportunities for students than can be covered from high school field trips. So the idea of creating a library of videos for students that allowed them to visit and experience a variety of businesses and educational programs that they could watch from their high school or home felt like the next evolutionary step. Especially in a state as geographically challenged as Maine. Please welcome the woman behind Destination Occupation, Rachel Knight. Rachel, thanks for coming by.

Rachel: Thanks for having me.

Yury: We are delighted to have your Rachel. And could you tell us a little bit more about a Destination Occupation and what does it do?

Rachel: Yeah, I would love to tell you about what Destination Occupation does. So it’s really at its core, at its heart, at its mission, is education, educating students, job seekers and educators and job coaches about career opportunities that exist. And we do that through what we call ‘career exploration videos’, and the videos are also serve a recruitment purpose as well. So the companies that we feature in the videos also use the videos to help them with recruiting

Yury: And the current state of your businesses is original as it was, or has it changed over the years?

Rachel: It has changed pretty dramatically actually over the past year, I would say. So for the first five years it really was focused on producing videos to highlight career opportunities in Maine, especially highlighting companies that exist in Maine but people don’t know about them. And getting these videos into the hands of people who are going to be our future workforce.

So we really focus a lot on growing our education sort of base, and growing our video content. The past year or so we’ve been getting into more of a recruiting side of things where we’re doing some sort of customized, what we call recruit, train, hire, program. So I’m sure we’ll get into that a little more.

Yury: Actually, if you don’t mind, I wanted to follow up. You said create videos about companies that other people may not know that they exist. But then how did you know that those companies exist?

Rachel: That’s a good question. Well, a lot of networking. I did a lot of networking with, I mean Portland or Maine, but Portland in particular has a great networking system with SCORE through the Maine Entrepreneurial Center. I can’t, I totally butchered that name.

Rich: Maine Center for Entrepreneurs.

Rachel: Thank you, ok. And then just other networking, the Chamber of Commerce, Eggs and Issues, kinds of things like that. So I just would go out and meet people and then get referrals also from clients that I had. And then just anyone that would recommend that I should reach out to a company that was struggling to hire, I would reach out to them. I’d work my way, elbow my way in, if I had to.

Yury: So it sounds like you were focused on the companies that you had pretty recognizable brands in the market?

Rachel: Not necessarily, no. I mean, I certainly, some of my first clients were recognizable. But after probably my first three or four clients, like Hancock Lumber was one of my first clients. Yodel Wood Stoves. Yodel is a brand name that a lot of Maine people recognize and know, but they don’t know that Yodel wood stoves are made in Gorham, Maine. Hmm.

Yury: Oh wow. Now we do.

Rachel: Yeah. Now you do.

Rich: So when those companies are approaching you or you’re approaching them – I’m just trying to get a handle on – the videos that you’re making for them, are they talking about the opportunities that exist in manufacturing in general that might happen to be put together by this company? Or is it really more a recruiting tool specific to the companies you’re working with?

Rachel: It’s more specific to the companies. So when we go in to work with a company like Hancock Lumber or Yodel or Proctor & Gamble – we have Proctor & Gamble also – and they’re long form videos, so they’re 2-5 minutes in length so we get to tell the story of the company. We get to feature them in what we call a ‘company profile’ video, and we dig into their culture and why the people that work there love working there and what makes them different, what might people not understand about that company that they want to sort of dispel some myths or break down some barriers.

And then we also do what we call ‘individual profile’ videos. And those can be individual careers that companies, say like Proctor & Gamble needs technicians. And so we can focus on that career path and highlight what someone that would do that career path would need to do to be successful in that job. So sort of like a day in the life of that career.

Yury: So it’s like if you’re talking about banking, you can talk about banking as a company in general, or something as specific as cybersecurity.

Rachel: Yes. Yeah, exactly.

Rich: So as somebody who’s been involved with helping companies find the right employees over the years, what do you think the problem or hurdle is that a lot of Maine companies face when it comes to hiring and recruiting right now?

Rachel: I think the biggest challenge that most of the companies are facing is, especially at the entry level people that have, well there’s two things. One, that the company even exists in the first place, and that the right people should want to go work for them.

So a company like Enercon Technologies in Gray, they need a specific type of skill set of people who can need to have fine motor skills. And so finding those people that can actually do those tasks, they’re finding it a challenge to find those right people. It’s not something you can just train for necessarily. It’s a skill set that people have to have. And so with the workforce shortage, they just don’t have the numbers of people coming through that they can consistently pluck that skillset of people. Does that make sense?

Rich: Yeah. So do you feel that in some ways it’s a numbers game that we just don’t have enough people in the employment pool here in the state?

Rachel: That’s a big part of the problem, we don’t have enough people. But I also think there are people who are underemployed or working two jobs, and maybe with a little bit training, would get into something that would be more sustainable for them economically and would get paid a better wage. And they just don’t really know where to turn a lot of times. So a lot of these companies are really struggling at that entry level job that does need a specific skillset to be successful. It’s not just an entry level job that can take anyone and anyone would be successful, but people actually have to have…

Yury: But you know, it sounds like a significant conundrum. If I’m working two jobs as is, then I have to sacrifice my second income to take time and go get the training, and in most cases, I’ll probably have to pay for the training out of my own pocket.

So are there any kind of models that you’ve seen the in Maine that’s helping those individuals to transition into those roles, whether they pay for training or give some kind of like a stipend?

Rachel: Yeah, that’s kind of where we’re moving with D.O. is into that type of model. So we just finished a pilot for manufacturing and we got six students who are, five of them were unemployed. So they were able to tap into funds to help them pay for their training, so they didn’t have to worry about that.

One of the gals who joined the class was working and we scholarshipped her in through the Manufacturers Association of Maine.

Rich: Oh, nice.

Rachel: And so she was able to work and get her training paid. So it’s exciting. Yeah. So we’re looking to find people who are, if they are unemployed or maybe there are pockets of money out there for people who may have barriers to work or barriers to moving ahead or who aren’t working, so we can tap into those resources, tap into those funds.

But then for those who are working one or two jobs, we’re hoping to increase the scholarship so that we can pay for people that just now, like I said, with a little training they can get out of the dish washing job that they’ve had for 10 years. Nothing wrong with dish washing either, but it’s not sustainable.

Rich: It doesn’t always pay the bills. We were actually talking before you came in about the trouble with the fact that unemployment is at an all-time low, and yet at the same time you’ve got people who are having to work two or three jobs just to pay their bills if they’re even able to.

Now this may be too big a question for you, but you know, does some of that responsibility come down to the employers that they are looking only for part time help? Should Maine employers also be looking for investing in their part time employees to move them from underemployed to employed? Maybe taking some of the stress and anxiety out of their lives to get better employees.

Rachel: I would think so, yeah.

Rich: I would think so, too, right? I mean no one should have to be working two or three jobs, especially if all of them are part time, and those companies have so many part time positions.

Rachel: Right. And most of the companies we work with, I’ve never worked with a company who have part time employees. Most of the companies we represent have full time employees and want to bring people in at an entry level. And then the people that they’ve brought in before them, they’re moving them up through the ranks, they’re training them, they’re cross training them, they’re sending them back to school to get skilled up.

And so they value those people at the entry level and want to groom them and keep them within the company because of the turnover. The cost for turnover for companies is enormous.

Rich: Rachel, you started to talk a little bit about this pilot program you’ve been running. I’m wondering if you could tell us a little bit more about it. Who’s investing in this program? It’s great that we got six people, but how do we turn that into 60 or 600 or 6,000 people over the next few years? What did this look like? What were some of the lessons that you learned, and how can we really make this work for the state?

Rachel: Do you have an half an hour? You have booked up this room for an hour. Well, so yeah, six students, we were hoping to have at least 10. But we learned a lot of lessons around marketing and timing and storms in Maine. And we had to sort of move the date back a couple of times, which meant we lost some initial students.

But we ended up with six and we’ve been working with Northeast Technical Institute, that’s the training program for this manufacturing class, and they’ve been amazing. You know, they typically wouldn’t start a class with less than 10 students, but because they’re partnering with us and we’re taking the reins on this, they were flexible and they said, let’s do it.

We have four employer partners, Yodel Wood Stoves, SIGCO Glass in Westbrook, Master Truck Equipment, also in Westbrook, and Paradigm Windows in Portland. So we had these four ‘cohort members’ is what we’re calling them, who joined us on this journey. And essentially what we did was – how this looks and we want to replicate this over and over again – we get the students, we sign them up with NTI, we screen them to make sure that they have an English level that is appropriate for the class because they’re going to see a lot of reading, a lot of new material around manufacturing.

And then once they sign up for the class, we have orientation, we bring the employers in, they all meet as the students go through the five week class, and it’s four days a week, 8:00 to 3:30. The employers are invited in to spend an hour, hour and a half with the students and sort of talk about their companies and get to know them. Then before the end of the class we set up site visits and we take the students to the sites and they get to actually see what the companies are like, what they do, they get a tour, they meet people, they ask questions.

And then we had graduation last Thursday. The employers came and we set up interviews right after. And so they had interviews and today already I was back at Fedcap, which is the agency that we got five of the six students from. Fedcap helps people who are on TANF – temporary assistance for needy families – get off TANF.

So I was there today I’m doing some mock interviews and some of our students were there and they’ve already been reached out to by the employers and have been made job offers already.

Rich: Oh, that’s fantastic.

Yury: Congratulations to the graduates.

Rachel: Yes, yes. And um, so we have another class starting February 25th at NTI, another manufacturing class, and we’re um, getting another cohort of employers. We don’t have a final list yet, but we want to do it again. And this is a model that we can recreate anywhere really as long as there’s employers who need people, training programs, and people looking to get into training. We can do this with manufacturing. We can do it with medical assisting, we can do it with IT, we can do it with really anything.

But I think the key, what’s different about what we are trying to do is kind of like boot camp type training, not something that’s going to take a year or two years. It’s more of what’s a basic skillset that employers need, a common group of employers that we can develop a training program and find the people that would be a good fit for that. And then get them trained in that specific skillset and get them working.

Rich: That makes a lot of sense. And NTI has I think its three campuses around the state, too. So certainly something that could happen in other parts of the state, too.

Rachel: And that’s why this partnership with NTI has been really important for us because they’re in Bangor, Auburn, and Scarborough. So it’s a nice triangle of geography in Maine where we can pool from an hour radius anyway of each of those campuses and, and have employers and people in all of those areas come to us for training.

Yury: Who helps with the development of the training program? Do you get insights from the potential employers? Can you talk a little bit about the structure of that?

Rachel: Yeah. So what we did was we took an 11 week course that already existed at NTI called Manufacturing Technology, and we handed it to the employers and said, “Take a look at this curriculum. What do you have to have, what would be nice to have, and what do you not necessarily need? So we were able to take that 11 week course and trim it down to a five week course. And the benefit of that is the, the, the folks who are investing their time or money to take the course, it’s five weeks right there.

Yury: You’re right. The two, three, you know, for five weeks. That’s, yeah, that’s a lot of time. That’s a lot of time.

Rachel: Yeah. And then the employers and five weeks have someone they have, they’re ready to hire people and they need people now. They don’t need people next year. Well, they will need people next year too, but they really need people now.

So based on their feedback and input we were able to give them exactly what they want. And the employers are thrilled because a lot of times – and this is something I’ve learned from them, I did not know this – training programs or education programs are created, not necessarily with the employers needs in mind, it’s more like what they think they need.

Yury: Wow. That is exciting. But you know, at the end of this five week training program, are those graduates receiving some kind of diplomas, certificates, something that they can actually take with them to show to other potential employers like, “Hey, this is what I accomplished”?

Rachel: Yes, yup. They got a certificate and it’s sanctioned by the Manufacturer’s Association of Maine. It is a Destination Occupation course that was delivered by Northeast Technical Institute and sanctioned by the Manufacturer’s Association. And on the back of the certificate we printed the content from the class so that the graduates can take this and put it on their resume, or they can take it to an employer and say, “I know these things. This is what I studied.”

Yury: So we talk a lot about potential employees and the things that they do in order to be more competitive in the marketplace. But what can business do to become more attractive to potential employees?

Rachel: Well I think putting themselves out there to showcase who they are and what their culture is and why would someone want to come work for them. It’s kind of, they get to market themselves to potential employees. I can’t tell you how many websites I’ve gone to for companies and I couldn’t tell you what they do. Their websites are sort of designed to sort of sell to their customer. But unless you’re someone that understands who that customer, you don’t know what the company does. So it would be really hard to even know what the jobs would be like there.

Yury: So basically they need to be a little bit more crystal clear.

Rich: And certainly to have some sort of recruitment section on the website if they need regular employees. Like we only hire maybe once a year, a couple of times a year, it’s not a major part of our website. But if you’re in constant recruitment mode, you need to be treating those potential employees as a client, as a prospect at least.

Rachel: Exactly. I’ve seen some websites where if they have a career page, it’s not updated. Or they’ll just say, I’m accepting applications. That’s it, you know, and nothing about what are they accepting applications for? What kind of person are they looking for? What are the positions that they’re hiring for? So you don’t know if I’m an engineer, would I fit in there? If I’m a marketing person or if I’m an accountant. So they really need to do a better job of paying attention to the career page and what are they hiring for.

And then I would also say job descriptions. I know they’re necessary and they’re sort of a – legal probably isn’t the right thing – but they have to have certain things on a job description to sort of protect what the job is. But to protect themselves. Or maybe protect themselves isn’t the right thing. But if they could write job descriptions for a legal purpose, but also for the person that’s actually applying for the job that’s going to make sense to them. So if they’re hiring for someone that’s going to do sanitation work or something like that, and it’s written in a way that the person that would actually want that job doesn’t even understand what the job is. I’ve seen that too, that the two just don’t match.

Rich: I also think that if you are in a tight labor market, like we are right now, that you should be treating those potential employees like customers or prospects. And when we talk to customers we don’t talk about features, we talk about benefits. And I’m not just talking about job benefits, but I think we should be talking about what’s the culture like, what do you expect it to be like when you work here, why do we all get excited to come to work here? You know, what’s the purpose? Who are we serving? Like there’s a certain point where you’re like, yeah, I want to buy into this.

Yury: Like accolades, awards, recognition and industry stuff.

Rich: And you may think, well if it’s just a sanitation worker, then he or she does not probably care about this. But people do care. They want to have purpose in their job. And some of the benefits are the fact that we’ve got a full time position, you won’t have to work extra things, we have all these flexibilities, these benefits, and whatever it may be. But you have to be selling yourself these days if you’re an employer because it really isn’t an employee’s marketplace.

Rachel: Absolutely. And not just on the website, but if you’ve got a Facebook page or any social media, use that and show who you are, show your personality. And because people, job seekers, do their research.

We’ve been talking with the past couple of years around millennials and Gen Z folks research everything, and they do. And my daughter is 18, turning 19 this week, and she researches everything and her friends do, too. But I’ve been talking to older people who do the same thing.

Someone moved here from DC and she was looking for a job Down East and she said that she would go to company’s websites to see what they were like. And she said she couldn’t tell what any companies were like. And this is someone in her 40’s or 50’s who was looking for a total career change, moving to a brand new place out from DC to Down East Maine. And she said she got lucky when she found the company that she ended up working for. But even then she couldn’t tell from their website or their social media anything about them. It was when she actually walked in the door and met the people that work there that she felt at home, but she had no idea.

Yury: So it wasn’t the educated guess. It was actually personal experience.

Rachel: Yeah. But with what we do at D.O., if they’d had a video…

Rich: Well, I was going to say, so that is your background is creating videos for businesses. So what role does video play in the recruitment and training process as you see it?

Rachel: I see it being a really important aspect because if people can watch the videos and see themselves working there, or they relate to the people they relate to someone’s story, that’s going to push them closer to wanting to apply, and then to actually being the right fit.

And for the training also, we were lucky enough that our cohort employers for that pilot, three of the four of them have videos on Destination Occupation. So we encourage the students to watch the videos as they were training and thinking about these companies and meeting with them. And, and they did, because every time we went to the employer sites of the three that have the videos, the students would see people from the videos and they’d be like, “Hey, that’s so and so”. And they felt connected, you know, and it was great.

Yury: Well, Rachel, we are at the part of the show where we ask this staple question of all of our guests who come to the Fast Forward Maine podcast studio here at Machias Savings Bank. So here’s the question. What one thing would you change if you could, to improve the business ecosystem here in Maine?

Rachel: Well, I would change how businesses are recruiting. It needs to be much more personalized, I think. I talked to a lot of job seekers who are really frustrated that they apply and they apply and they apply, and they don’t hear anything back. They think they’re qualified. They’ve put out a hundred resumes and they’re not hearing anything back, which is perplexing when you think there’s such a workforce shortage.

So where’s the breakdown? I’m not 100% sure. I don’t know if it’s the companies are so used to using platforms like Indeed or JobsInME, which are all great and they serve a great purpose. But with the recruitment problem we have right now, I think employers have to come out from behind their desks and their screens and they need to actually interact with potential employees and make it more personalized. Because the pray and spray aspect from the employee’s perspective of just sending out a hundred resumes, and now the employers are all getting inundated with hundreds of resumes, it’s just not working.

So I don’t know how to change it other than be more personalized and customize your recruiting, if you can.

Yury: Hopefully those who are listening to this episode will take it to heart and go back and talk to their marketing and HR departments and say, “Hey, let’s do it different, let’s do it better.”

Rachel: I hope so.

Rich: Rachel, if there are employers out there looking to be one of these cohorts or people looking for a new career and want to find you online, where can we send them?

Rachel: Destinationoccupation.com.

Rich: Excellent. Rachel, thank you so much for coming by and sharing your insights with us today.

Rachel: Thank you.

Yury: That was a great show. Thank you.