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4 Lessons for Recruiting (and Retaining) an Effective Team


These are tough times for recruiting and retaining skilled trade workers. Consider the statistics:

  • In 2021, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported that the number of available workers per open job was about half its historical average over the past 20 years.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) began reporting in late summer 2021 that Americans were quitting their jobs at the highest rate since the agency began collecting this data more than 20 years ago, breaking the record in consecutive months
  • According to Gallup, the cost of replacing an employee can range from one-half to two times that person's annual salary.  

No one knows the challenge better than José Luis Ramirez, the assistant vice president of the University of Miami Health System’s Division of Occupational Health, Safety and Compliance. José manages the occupational health and facilities safety team at 134 clinics encompassing a total of 5 million square feet of clinical space across South Florida. His organization hires workers with a diversity of in-demand skills in positions ranging from electrician to clinical engineer.

So how does he do it? Here are José's four lessons on recruiting and retaining an effective team.

Lesson 1: Start From Within

To find the best applicants, start by looking inward. “Our staff is our best [source of] referrals,” José said. The health system has 18,000 employees, many with contacts in the industry. As much as possible, José tries to fill vacancies internally. “There is a significant amount of talent within the university,” he said. The division often finds strong candidates for administrative and business positions within the organization. 

Looking inward can also help you uncover new ideas and approaches to recruiting. José regularly meets for brainstorming sessions with the system’s other directors. They talk about what has worked in the past and how they can help one another in the future. “We throw out ideas, concepts and strategies,” José said.

Lesson 2: Cast a Wide Net

To find workers with the right skills, look beyond the usual applicant pool. Working directly with technical schools is one way to cast a wider net.

José needs skilled trades workers to oversee the plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems across the University of Miami’s healthcare facilities. For many of these positions, "certifications are required," he said. And right now, "there’s a shortage of available personnel." With the construction boom in South Florida, José says his division is competing with private contractors.

Even for an applicant with the right aptitude for the job and experience in their trade, transitioning to the medical environment can be difficult. "It's one thing to be an electrician in an apartment building," he said, but even for people with those basic skills, working in a hospital can be a challenge. Working on the electrical systems in the health system’s buildings "requires a higher level of expertise and knowledge."

Community colleges have become a crucial talent pipeline for the UM Health System. "It has worked very well," he said, "We are ... hiring temporary workers right from those schools" that train biomedical engineers and electronics technicians. "If they work out they could be offered a position in the future."

Apprenticeship programs can solidify this kind of talent pipeline by establishing formal collaboration between community colleges and businesses that hire skilled workers. Apprenticeships typically combine classroom instruction with on-the-job training and mentorship to develop trade skills.

Lesson 3: Focus on the Team Fit

To build a team that will last, don't settle for just anyone. Assembling an effective crew goes far beyond simply finding applicants with the right credentials. "We hire as a team," José said. "I'd rather have a position open than hire a person that is technically qualified, but will be a bad fit for our team ... Lone Rangers do not fit well within our system."

To find employees with the right attitude, the division uses behavioral interview questions. The interview starts with technical discussion. "Then we get into ... scenarios,” José said. He asks applicants, "Tell me [about] a time when you had a difficulty with your supervisor. How did you solve it?" Applicants' answers to behavioral interview questions can indicate whether they'll be team players who fit an organization's culture.

Once a job offer is extended, the large division works to bring their newest member into the fold. "Everyone is going to be assigned ... an onboarding buddy," who helps the new worker find resources and navigate their new job. "We just want them to ... feel welcome and help them to transition," José said.

Lesson 4: Help Them Level Up

To keep your employees satisfied, don't neglect their professional development. José recognizes the importance of helping his team members grow. Staff members are constantly challenged to acquire new training, skills and certifications. Every employee has a career path, and if they show they have what it takes, José is willing to invest in their development. "If you’re staying within the status quo ... you don’t belong in our division," he said.

Investments in professional growth can benefit everyone. José is always working to identify where an individual employee’s opportunity for growth overlaps with a departmental need. "This is one of the things that makes our division exciting," he says. "Everyone wants to work for us."

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The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.