Creativity key to attracting high-tech professionals

Innovative recruitment campaign results in 60 new hires and low turnover
By Susan Pahl
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/21/2003

Developing an effective recruitment and retention strategy is particularly important in industries like telecommunications and computing where there is a vast shortage of qualified job candidates.

Companies stand a much better chance of attracting and retaining employees if they can prove that they offer an atmosphere where people can grow both professionally and personally.

Last year, UUNET, an Internet provider, developed a strategy that called for both unique and aggressive marketing techniques, along with a strong emphasis on the value and benefits of working for the company.

Knowing that employees are a company’s strongest selling point, UUNET developed a recruitment initiative using members of its staff to attract more great people. Its first move was to launch a grassroots marketing campaign using posters throughout the Toronto area.

A series of six different posters appeared at more than 135 locations across the city including the downtown core. The campaign ran for two weeks last June, and then again for four weeks in the fall.

The posters featured close-ups of UUNET employees from offices across Canada. The first set described the relationship between employees’ outside interests and the qualities they bring to their jobs. For example, “Nancy Worth, Systems Administrator, sailor, world traveler...”

A second set, of slightly more crisply designed posters, hit the streets on a larger scale.

The goal of the poster campaign was to reach potential employees at the grassroots level, and at a fraction of the cost of conventional advertising.

To continue the momentum created by blanketing the city with its posters, the company also launched a relatively inexpensive aerial campaign. On a Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in late September/early October 1999, an airplane circled the city for two hours trailing a banner that read “COOL JOBS @ WWW.UUNET.CA.”

City residents and commuters viewed the display from nearby biking paths or while sitting in rush-hour traffic.

UUNET outsourced both campaigns to The Farm, a Toronto-based communication design agency.

As a result of the poster and aerial efforts, as well as traditional recruitment activities, UUNET hired more than 60 people for its corporate headquarters in Toronto during the fourth quarter of 1999. During the same quarter, turnover was very low — averaging just two per cent.

Public feedback has been strong, with comments such as, “UUNET must be doing extremely well with all the hiring you are doing,” and “tell me about UUNET. I would really like an opportunity to work for your company.”

The success of this campaign has confirmed what UUNET knew all along — that the working environment plays a significant role in retaining qualified staff. The company has taken that philosophy to heart.

Its Canadian headquarters in Toronto are being moved from an over-populated space to a larger building closer to the high-tech action.

The company will occupy eight floors as well as the penthouse, using about 70 per cent of the building.

Aside from having new, customized surroundings with enough room to work and grow, employees will benefit from a penthouse lounge area with many amenities, including a full-size pool table and walk-out balcony.

“We really want our employees to be in an atmosphere that feels like it was built for them,” explains vice-president and country manager, Tal Bevan.

Aside from the perks of pool tables and walk-out balconies, high-tech workers want the most advanced work environment possible.

To accomplish this, the new headquarters has undergone major renovations, including the addition of fibre-optic services in two different locations, the conversion of the basement into parking and storage space exclusive to company use, and the wattage per square foot has been doubled to provide the level of capacity that is required for an Internet service provider.

Also housed onsite is a network operating centre which includes the equipment necessary to monitor all Internet flow on the company’s Internet network.

The growth of the high-technology industry and the information age has undoubtedly changed everyone’s lives.

The fierce demand for highly skilled people to work in this industry has created a whole new set of human resource challenges, from training to recruitment to employee retention. For their part, human resource professionals must have the flexibility and imagination to apply new and creative strategies. Business, in turn, must be prepared to offer employees a work environment that meets more than just their monetary needs.

Campaign results

UUNET’s campaign succeeded in helping them hire 60 new employees. The company’s creative recruitment campaign cut its costs of attracting qualified candidates by about 80 per cent.

A normal campaign, resulting in 60 new hires, using newspaper ads and recruiters, can cost a firm as much as $125,000.

By using more creative methods, the same campaign cost just $25,000.

Susan Pahl is vice-president, human resources at UUNET, an MCI WorldCom Company. She can be reached at (416) 368-6621.

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