Fresh Ideas to Recruit Seasonal Employees

Written By: 

Becky Dunlap, CPRP

As summer approaches, agencies are preparing to open their pools, recreation centers, and facilities to the public in 2021.  In this article, we dive into strategies and ideas to recruit seasonal employees.

Prioritizing the safety of your employees and guests while also creating a memorable experience continues to be a challenge for recreation professionals. On top of the many details to manage, plan, and respond to, the overarching concern for how to recruit and retain seasonal employees.

In fact, some pools and facilities are not opening this Memorial Day weekend – not due to COVID-19 – but because of lifeguard shortages.  This was the case in Mecklenberg County, who had only filled 86 positions out of the 247 that they needed. To incentivize workers, they raised the hourly rate to $15/hour and even offered a $500 signing bonus!

The reason for the shortages? Although this problem isn’t new, the pandemic certainly didn’t help. Many seasonal employees lost their job when COVID-19 hit.  In addition, training and certifications were delayed and/or cancelled over the last several months.  Opening dates were very much up in the air until just a few weeks ago, so agencies had less time to prepare for the busy summer season (something that typically happens in early Spring).  Finally, we know that many cities and park districts are unable to pay competitive wages.  All of these factors combined to create a country-wide shortage of lifeguards, recreation cashiers, maintenance staff, and other seasonal employees.

7 Strategies to Recruit More Quality Seasonal Employees

Given those challenges, in this article I wanted to share 7 strategies to recruit seasonal employees, improving more quality applicants.  Some of these you might have already implemented, while others’ may not be possible for your particular agency or staff needs.  We hope that this episode is helpful for you, and that you are able to try an idea or two!

1. Understand Employee Motivations

Back in the day, becoming a lifeguard had an allure to it – a social status that went along with hanging out with your friends at the pool every day.  Now?  Not so much.  So why do your current employees work for you?  This is vital information that you can find out simply by asking your current team members. By understanding what brought them to apply in the first place, and understanding why they’ve decided to stay, you can tap into those motivations for recruitment.

If you want to learn more about benefits from an employee perspective, I would recommend this reddit thread about the reasons that lifeguarding has been helpful. Along the same lines, you may want to reconsider how typical benefits might be perceived.  For instance, is health insurance really an incentive if many candidates can be on their parent’s health insurance plan until their 26?  Maybe, maybe not.  Perhaps a better benefit may mean paid vacation, rest days, or mental health days.  Consider creative benefits that speak to what candidates really want.

On the other hand, it’s just as useful to understand why people complain.  Why do people quit?  Perhaps you could call former employees to understand their reason for leaving.  You could also just sit in on water cooler talk to understand current employee frustrations.  Know that your current employees are some of the best advocates for the role (opportunity for a referral program?)

There are simple things that you can do to ease the frustrations of employees too.  Whether that means making transportation easier (provide bus tickets or Lyft stipends) or finding ways to relay information through WhatsApp. Do they always get scheduled even after they put in their vacation request? Upgrade your scheduling system to prevent those mistakes. Do they lack transportation to get to work? Offer a bus pass or another location that’s more convenient. See your employees as HUMANS FIRST and ask yourself how you would want to be treated. Your current employees make the best advocates for your agency.

2. Build Excitement

So often, agencies focus on the pay, the responsibilities, and the qualifications in the job description.  They miss the opportunity to share the excitement of working for their agency!  If you aren’t able to provide great pay or benefits, then you’ll need to be creative as to how you present the opportunity.

The lifeguard shortage is a story that deserves media attention. By going to your local media station, they may be able to extend your traditional recruitment reach.  To make the most of it, come prepared ready to tout the benefits of working in the role, any incentives you’ve developed, and how they can find out more.

Beyond traditional media attention, this is also a good opportunity to brand this job as an “experience” – one worthy enough to post on social media.

Act as if the job IS the experience.

Give them something they’ll want to tweet about; give them a scene they want to capture on instagram. If your employees get to work outside every day, that’s a perk.  If they get to make a difference in the community, sell it. If they get a free rec pass as an employee, sell it.

3. Go Where They Are

Unfortunately, the days of using flyers to recruit and advertise for open positions isn’t effective anymore. Instead, you can and should go where they go. This involves having a solid grasp about who your ideal candidates are and where they spend their time.  If you try to speak directly to those between 16 and 20 years old, for instance, you probably will want to prioritize your recruitment efforts on Instagram or Tik-Tok (many people in this age demographic don’t use Facebook).

If you want to speak directly to the parents of these kids, you can promote the job in an email newsletter and via Facebook for instance.  Know your target audience and craft a message specific to them. Paid ads through google or social media channels may also be effective as well.  In addition, knowing that many of your current employees have active social media accounts, you can have them share the job opportunity with their audience as an easy way to extend your reach to your target demographic.

4. Revise Your Application Process

Once you’ve reached out, built excitement, and have interested candidates, the next step is to get them to apply.  Unfortunately, I think many applicants get stuck in this stage. I’ve visited so many government websites that make the application process incredibly difficult.  The application process should not be a test to see who is capable.  If it is clunky, outdated, or difficult to navigate, candidates will take that as a sign that you aren’t tech-savvy.  Using a system like governmentjobs.com, although it can be quite expensive for a small agency, will allow candidates to save their resume and auto fill many of the application questions.  Paper applications are certainly a thing of the past. How will you make the application process as easy as possible?

  • Look at your application process from an employee point of view.  How long does it take for someone brand new to the district/city to understand how the application process works?  Is the application lengthy and confusing? Hard to fill out? Require a separate cover letter and resume?  If the process is cumbersome, your best employees may give up before they get started.
  • Many applications state that call-ins and visitations are not allowed.  This discourages one of the most effective ways of networking to get new jobs. Revisit some of the language in your applications that may be deterring your potential employees.
  • Make sure your values are clear, and if (hopefully) you are an equal opportunity employer, be sure to say it.  You want your employees to understand what you tolerate and what type of culture you are trying to create.
  • Many candidates spend hours working on an application. Once they someone submits an application, do they receive a basic confirmation letter back? Could you improve that with a  letter of excitement that thanks them for their interest, tells them about the application process, and let’s them know of more ways to stay in touch.
  • How long does it take before an applicant is contacted for an interview? It should be less than 3 days, and honestly they’ve probably already moved on. Check your applications regularly and find a system to track them.
  • Whatever happens, ALWAYS let your applicants know about their hiring status. Not interested? Tell them. Not right now? Tell them. You waste their time by not being direct.

5. Speed Up The Onboarding & Training Process

Once you have qualified candidates, it’s a good idea to ensure you have a smooth and efficient onboarding process.  I’ve been in agencies where it takes 4 – 8 weeks from the time a candidate applies, interviews, and completes paperwork in Human Resources.  This not only is frustrating for candidates, but slows you down as well. By developing an efficient system for online or hybrid onboarding, you can speed up the process and ensure that your employee has a strong start to their employment.  Having online training/onboarding systems can also ensure that your employees can get the training/certifications they need without worrying about scheduling or one-to-one training.  Have all of your policies, guidelines, FAQs and SOPs in one place so that they can easily access and find information.

6. Reconsider Outdated Policies

Many policies carry over from year to year without considering how these might alienate future staff.  For instance, at a previous facility that I used to manage, we implemented a rule that guards couldn’t look at their phone during their breaks.  You can only imagine the type of backlash we received.  At the time, we didn’t realize how critical those phones were to staff.  Plus, have you tried to go all day without looking at your phone?  Nearly impossible these days.  What other policies are causing potential candidates to seek other opportunities?

7. Share Your Culture & Values Often

Employees wear culture everywhere they go.  Be sure to not only explain your organization values and expectations, but also practice and show them too.  Make them proud to work for you (free t-shirts and water bottles help too!). You want them to know how much you are and that they BELONG.

Conclusion

In summary, know that your candidates are looking for the best job for them.  They are often interviewing YOU as much as you are interviewing them.  I believe that we first need to change our mindset about seasonal employees before we can effective recruit for them.  Treating them as humans first – rather than employees – is a good first start. Hopefully these tips and ideas will help you understand how to reposition your open roles to find the most qualified seasonal employees for your agency.

So now it’s your turn. What else can you do to attract more employees and keep them engaged? Did you relate or use any of the ideas I suggested? I’d seriously love to know!
Becky Dunlap, CPRP
Becky Dunlap, CPRP

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