‘Go West, young man’

Attracting workers to remote locations tricky proposition — fit and EQ rank high
By Colin Finlay
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/09/2011

Recruitment today is different from the past. The work environment has four generations of workers with a fifth generation on the way. A global economy affects even a local business that doesn’t venture beyond the town limits. People also have the ability to communicate in ways that never would have been considered in the past.

With this globalization, there is an increasingly competitive environment for jobs and talent. Recruiters must extend themselves beyond what is considered traditional and breathe innovation if they are to be successful.

This holds true even more so when a recruiter is hiring for remote locations. There are some places and environments that require a certain type of person with a strong desire.

There is also a growing shortage of talent in many industries. In fields such as medicine, nursing, pharmacy, education and even retail, it can be difficult to fill positions in a cost-effective manner. It is also difficult to find people who are willing to modify their lifestyles to meet the needs of remote communities, which diminishes the number of applicants.

Some places exist in harsh climates such as the Arctic. When travelling above the tree line, it’s essentially a frozen dessert. It can be -50 C in the winter with snowstorms that reduce visibility to zero. The other extreme is a tropical jungle village tucked in an area only accessible via a hiking path.

In secluded areas, it’s often difficult to obtain supplies and there may not be luxuries such as a phone or Internet access. In these situations, the communities are often small and there is a lack of local talent with the appropriate skills.

Recruiters also face challenges when it comes to infrastructure and housing. Some communities are only accessible by plane, boat or foot — and a job candidate may have a genuine fear of flying. Or what if an applicant has a serious medical condition and there is no hospital nearby? What if the applicant has teenaged children but there is no high school in the community? These are all circumstances the recruiter needs to make the applicant aware of before a decision can be made.

Failing to inform an applicant about the challenges of the situation could result in an applicant leaving his post or, even worse, his safety could be at risk.

Housing in remote communities can also be scarce or unsuitable for an applicant. In some organizations, it’s the recruiter’s role to manage this challenge — will the company have to rent, lease, buy or build a place for staff to live?

When local talent isn’t suitable, it can be incredibly challenging to find a person — who is used to the comforts of home — willing to physically seclude herself from the world. A person’s adaptability to a variety of circumstances, whether emotional, physical or social, has to be strong.

Often living in these remote environments requires new recruits to make incredible lifestyle changes. Local customs may prohibit them from socially behaving in a manner they are accustomed to, such as drinking alcohol. Some communities restrict outside professionals from developing romantic relationships with any of the locals. For young professionals keen to help and make a difference in a community-in-need, living without the possibility of companionship can be a challenge.

With all these circumstances at play, it can be emotionally draining when the loneliness and lack of social connection start to set in. There are very real risks of depression and, if not noticed or managed appropriately, even more severe psychological issues can arise.

One way organizations have tried to manage this potential threat is to seek couples or groups who would like to work in these communities together. Although this has helped with retention, it comes at a cost — it is expensive to relocate one person, let alone a family of three.

People who recruit for positions in remote communities often find it a long and tedious process. This is a situation where fit and emotional intelligence rank above education and experience when it comes to finding the right candidate. Of course, there are some cases where this isn’t an option, such as a doctor.

Whether an applicant is choosing a role in a remote location for the money, for the experience or for the adventure, it is vital to be as transparent as possible. Otherwise, an organization can spend a lot of money on recruitment, training and relocation costs without a return on the investment.

It’s also vital for recruiters to be transparent regarding the role, the benefits, the community and any challenges associated with them. In turn, the applicant should be honest about his expectations, concerns and any challenges he thinks may require assistance to ensure his personal safety and well-being are considered appropriately.

Colin Finlay is an HR consultant at Legacy Bowes Group in Winnipeg. He can be reached at colin@legacybowes.com or, for more information, visit www.legacybowes.com.

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