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Recruitment Best Practices: YMCA of Greater Rochester, N.Y.

Organization Profile

As a charitable association, the YMCA of Greater Rochester, N.Y., offers thousands of programs each year to people of all ages. Its programs help build healthy and safe communities. Its 2,700 employees work in 15 different locations throughout Greater Rochester, N.Y.


Most YMCA facilities are open seven days a week for up to 18 hours or more each day. This started to make it difficult for the Y of Greater Rochester to find qualified employees who were able to work non-traditional hours or who could manage or staff community programs. And since the organization's members were getting older, the composition of the staff at the Y no longer reflected the people it served.

Business Challenge: Target Employees Who Reflect Diverse Membership

Considering its hours, 5 a.m. until 10 p.m., the YMCA of Greater Rochester sometimes had trouble filling positions at each of its 15 different facilities. For example, at one location, there was an aquatics class offered from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. three times a week, and at another, the welcome desk had to be staffed nearly 17 hours a day.

"Our traditional target population was moms who wanted to reenter the workforce, who had older children they could leave [on their own] early in the morning, or who could come into work for a couple of hours while they were in school," said Fernan Cepero, the vice president of human resources at the YMCA. He explained that college students weren't always available year-round, because they were attending classes. Neither were high school students, whose work hours were also restricted by school and child-labor laws.

In 2005, a unique opportunity presented itself. A local managed-health care plan, Preferred Care, invited community organizations and local fitness centers to help introduce Silver Sneakers®, a health and fitness program for people age 50+. The insurer would pay the annual membership fee of each person who participated. At the time, annual memberships at the YMCA were more than $500.

Initially, many organizations were reluctant to offer the new program, fearing everything from injuries to lawsuits, and several declined the invitation. But the YMCA readily embraced the program and was soon surprised by the high turnout.

"We didn't expect to get the response we received," said Cepero. The first year of the program, nearly 5,300 older people signed up. Today, almost 12,000 are Silver Sneakers® members. From a membership standpoint, he said, that is "phenomenal."

Although the program addressed one challenge—encouraging older individuals to stay in shape—it created another. One of the YMCA's philosophies is to employ a workforce that represents the demographics of its membership base. Because of the sudden growth among age-50+ members, the Y's staffing profile was out of balance.

"We didn't have representation of senior employees matching the new growth we had in membership," he said, explaining that in 2002, roughly 10 percent of the Y's workforce (or 150 of 1,500 employees) were age 50+. Likewise, only 2 percent of its 42,500 members were age 50+. But after Silver Sneakers® was introduced and several new branches opened, membership swelled to 84,500. Twelve percent of those members were age 50+.

Business Solution: Recruit Older Members as Employees

Among the first tasks on the YMCA checklist was revamping its marketing collateral. While its materials didn't deliberately leave out images of older people, the appeal was definitely aimed at a much younger workforce, explained Cepero.

"It sounds simple, but it had an extreme impact on [older] applicants," he said. After the marketing makeover, he reported, "That was one of the first comments they made: 'When we look at your brochure, we see there are people like us in your workforce. This is a place where I would want to come to work.'"

The association then joined in an effort with Lifespan, an organization that offers information, services, and job-search assistance to older adults in the local community. Cepero related that Lifespan then promoted YMCA positions to its clients who were interested in returning to work.

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