Health Care and Human Resources

New initiative intends to 'level the playing field'

HireReach program will train businesses in adopting more efficient, unbiased hiring procedures.

August 3, 2018
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When Bill Manns began his work in 2013 as president of Mercy Health Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids, he noticed inconsistent hiring practices he believed caused high turnover rates and a workforce not as diverse as it could have been.

He worked to implement an “evidence-based selection process” meant to eliminate bias and “level the playing field.”

Faced with filling 3,200 positions each year, Mercy Health executives in Grand Rapids and Muskegon had been working since 2010 on a major hiring process redesign.

Manns implemented a more consistent and evidence-based selection process at St. Mary’s, which later moved to Muskegon, that evaluated candidates holistically, targeting skills relevant to each job and reducing the potential for unconscious bias.

Over the past eight years, first-year turnover of those hired using the new strategy dropped 23 percent. The amount of time it took to hire a candidate dropped 16 percent, and the diversity of new hires grew from 18.4 percent to 38 percent.

Now, that strategy is the model for a new initiative meant to create the same outcomes for other area industries.

Talent 2025 and West Michigan Works! are combining forces to create HireReach, which will train employers in a 13-county West Michigan region on how to implement strategies similar to the ones Manns helped create.

HireReach is a three-year program that will recruit, train and advise businesses as they implement the hiring process. That includes a thorough examination of entry-level and middle-skill positions to identify relevant skills and revamping the assessment and evaluation process.

Jacob Maas, CEO of West Michigan Works!, said the strategy has great benefits for employers as well as job seekers.

“The more strategic employers can be at selecting the right fit for the job, I think our whole economy will benefit as a result,” Maas said.

The HireReach hiring process is meant to more highly regard candidates’ qualifications above unrelated aspects that could cause bias, such as name spelling, schools attended or interviewing skills.

A 2017 study by researchers at Northwestern University, Harvard and the Institute for Social Research in Norway found that since 1989, white candidates receive an average of 36 percent more callbacks than black candidates and 24 percent more callbacks than Latinos.

Maas said a goal of the program is to focus on helping those “not feeling the economic comeback we’ve had in West Michigan.”

While the unemployment rate is around 3 percent, he said it’s around 20 or 30 percent in some cases — primarily within the 49507 zip code.

“I didn’t say, ‘Let’s go out and hire some people of color’; what I said is, ‘Let’s level the playing field,’” Manns said. “I want it to feel like anybody who’s talented, regardless of color, can get a job.”

Maas said, “It’s how you ensure a certain level of consistency and quality throughout the process that gives everyone an equal and fair shot at getting a job.”

That consistency practice means treating each candidate the same, including asking the same set of interview questions — not questions that come from the “gut,” as Manns said was often the St. Mary’s practice previously — and avoiding decisions based on first impressions or personal chemistry.

“The interview might be good to understand if somebody’s a good communicator, but not all positions require that you’re a great communicator and a great interviewer,” Maas said.

“There are different skills needed for each position, so why not have tools that can help you better screen for those?”

Maas said two consultants that worked on Mercy Health’s hiring plan will work on the HireReach initiative: Bill Guest of Metrics Reporting and Rachel Cleveland.

With Mercy Health developing its process over the past eight years, Maas said the organization has it “down to a science,” so HireReach will be able to implement changes more quickly.

Manns said the Mercy Health process involves several steps. First, there is an automatic pre-screening, followed by a manual check, from a wide net of applicants to determine if they are qualified for other jobs than only the ones they applied for.

Next, there’s a proficiency screening, then an interview and then a day where the candidate can experience what the job entails.

The final step before hiring involves bringing the candidate back to the workplace and observing the cultural fit.

Maas said the primary focus will be on the IT, manufacturing and construction industries, though other organizations could benefit, as well, such as health care or government.

Awareness workshops about HireReach already have started, and several companies have expressed interest, including Shape Corp. in Grand Haven.

“We’re always looking for ways to improve our hiring process and, ultimately, improve quality of hire,” said Julie Davidson, Shape’s talent acquisition director. “The metrics that Mercy Health has shared for improvements and the cost savings alone is enough to grab my attention and want to learn more.”

Mercy Health has been recognized for redesigning its hiring process. It received the Pillar Award from the Women’s Resource Center in Grand Rapids. The process is highlighted in a case study by the National Fund for Workforce Solutions and CareerSTAT, and it is included in the report of the Advisory Board Task Force convened by the White House Economic Council on career pathways to middle-class jobs in health care.

HireReach is funded by a $2-million, three-year grant by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation.

Those funds will support work from consultants and other costs from the two organizations working on the initiative.

Maas said there is no charge for companies to participate in the program, though they would be making a considerable investment in staff time and training.

Maas is hoping by the end of the three-year grant, the initiative will be able to show a return on investment.

He said the cost of an employee turnover is typically $3,500 to $4,000, and he hopes the initiative can show a cost savings of 5 to 10 percent.

“The goal, ultimately, is for it to live well beyond the life of the grant,” he said.

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