In especially challenging times, many HR professionals in not-for-profit organisations are taking innovative approaches to staff recruitment and retention.
In recent times, the pressures on the Australia’s not-for-profit (NFP) sector’s capabilities have been increased by declining government funding, rising costs associated with regulatory and compliance requirements, the global economic downturn’s impact on fundraising, and a general shortage of skilled staff.
Put all these considerations together and it’s clear that the task of attracting and retaining the best employees can be a difficult one for NFPs. Sometimes organisations are required to come up with innovative methods to fill specific roles. Here we look at three NFPs that have done just that.
Indigenous focus for Red Cross
In 2009, the Australian Red Cross had 67 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees, comprising 3 per cent of its total staff. There was a general desire to double this number, but the organisation lacked the framework to do so.
Also, the Red Cross recruitment system didn’t sufficiently encourage applications from Indigenous people. Feedback from Indigenous staff highlighted a lack of cultural recognition and poor acknowledgement of skills and qualifications.
The solution was to devise an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Strategy.
“In the not-for-profit sector, the government is one of the major sources of funding,” says Red Cross HR director, Chris Steinfort. “Funding generally goes for one, two or three years, whereas to work in a number of Indigenous communities it really needs a longer-term partnership.
“So how do we build a workforce that is appropriate to enable us to do that work? One of the best ways is to have a larger number of Aboriginal people working here.”
In May last year, the Red Cross Victorian state office was used in a pilot program to help build the leadership team’s capability for recruitment and retention of Indigenous staff and to develop appropriate support structures to achieve this.
The Victorian office worked with community organisations WISE Recruitment and White Lion, and managers were trained in interviewing skills that encompass cultural awareness. Training was also provided in unconscious bias.
Consequently, the Victorian office’s Indigenous staff increased from 0.4 to 3.1 per cent in just 12 months. The organisation’s overall level of Indigenous staff is now 4.8 per cent.
Villa Maria leads its leaders
Victorian NFP Villa Maria provides services in retirement living, as well as disability and aged care. It has a range of care facilities around the state and employs about 1250 people.
The broad geographical base of its workforce, coupled with declining resources in the Australian disability sector, pose significant HR challenges. The organisation has partnered with a university for management training for some of its 100 team leaders, but industrial relations issues are still a concern and team leaders are lacking the management skills required to improve overall performance.
“We decided to develop our own training programs and make them mandatory for team leaders,” says Villa Maria HR manager, Vanessa Tetaz.
An external provider developed three training modules for the organisation, and the HR team developed another three dealing with performance management and recruitment.
“There were some problems with the type of people they were recruiting,” says Tetaz. “ It was often out of desperation to fill a shift and not really understanding the impact of making a bad recruitment decision.”
Tetaz puts the program’s success down to its practical nature. “We use real-life examples and real operational issues, and it’s highly activity-based and very interactive.”
Like many NFPs, the homelessness agency HomeGround recently fell victim to government funding cuts.
HomeGround has faced a restructure on five separate occasions over the past four years. However, it has stuck with its values of ‘people, respect, dignity and choice’ and experienced a spike in staff engagement results. Overall satisfaction results increased from 4.56 out of six in 2009 to 4.86 in 2011 and 4.94 in 2013.
“Attracting and retaining staff is a challenge in this sector and funding changes over the past four years have created significant changes for HomeGround,” says HR manager Melanie Hollows.
“We’ve gained expertise in areas we’d rather not have had to experience in terms of change management.”
Hollows says HomeGround was transparent with staff about the restructuring in order to reduce the sense of resentment that often follows change.