But the recruiting tactic that may have had the biggest impact was tapping the Y’s membership ranks to increase its older workforce. Cepero said he got the idea from a Starbucks recruiting campaign in which employees asked customers if they wanted job applications with their coffee.
Cepero asked employees in the member services department to start having conversations with new members, particularly those who participated in Silver Sneakers®. Employees would ask questions such as, "Would you like to work here in addition to working out?" He said that many older people were excited by the opportunities, filled out applications, and then entered the YMCA’s talent pipeline.
At the same time, the existing staff at the Y began building rapport with new members who were 50+. The hook of the conversation was asking about new members' interests in working or even in volunteering at the YMCA, added Margaret Thomsen, the association’s corporate HR manager.
"We talk to members to understand what their needs are, which has translated to finding the right work niche for them," she said. "You cannot get that from putting an ad in the paper and hoping for the best or a [good] match."
Other locations applied similar grassroots efforts. Back in 2001, the YMCA child-care center at Lewis Street was trying to recruit people to staff its pre-school and school-age programs and its referral service. "We really looked at the community we serve and saw a rich environment of individuals over the age of 50 who had lots of knowledge," recalled James Smith, the center’s director. "We wanted to use their strengths and skills sets."
To capitalize on the talent of older community members, the staff asked a nearby church to notify its congregation of the center's job opportunities. Employees also walked door to door, hanging about 250 job flyers on residents' front doors. Smith said that many older people responded, because they wanted to be reengaged in their community.
But sometimes the job perks attract candidates. All YMCA employees—even part-timers—receive free memberships. Those run approximately $43 a month, said Steve MacAller, executive director at the YMCA’s Chester F. Carlson Metro Center Branch in downtown Rochester.
"Free membership is a big hook," he said.
However, traditional avenues are still used. Job opportunities are posted on the local YMCA’s Web site, and there is a Power Point display in the lobby. MacAller said the Y tries to approach people from all sides with information about current job vacancies.
Another important target is volunteers. The YMCA has plenty. About 10 years ago, the Northwest YMCA branch formed an ambassador subcommittee. It is a group of roughly 60 active retirees who work with the branch’s board of directors on special events. Every several months, to keep the committee members happy and engaged, the branch coordinates special bus trips for them to nearby U.S. and Canadian cities. By encouraging each person to bring someone, explained Deb Duffy, the associate executive director at the branch, the Y has the chance to recruit the friends as volunteers. Each year, some lucky volunteers are recruited to become part-time staff.
"They make the best employees because they understand our culture," said Duffy. "[Conversations] naturally evolve into, 'Ya know, we need more help at the front desk….'"
Outcomes: Loyal Employees, Strong Ties With Members
The YMCA’s recruiting efforts have proved successful in numerous ways: Cepero reported that the organization’s overall employee-turnover rate (now 15 percent) is lower than the national average for associations, which is 19 percent. With part-timers, the difference is even more dramatic: There is a 30 percent turnover rate, compared to the national average of 78 percent.
Older workers seem to stay on the job longer. At the Lewis Street Center, which has 22 employees, only 20 percent were age 50+ in 2001. Now, older people make up 30 percent of the center’s labor force, said Smith. Of the 30 percent, 70 percent have worked at the center for the past seven years.
Cepero said that many 50+ employees eagerly work hard-to-fill shifts, such as those from late morning to early afternoon. Without them, he said, filling those time slots with other segments of the labor force would be much more challenging.