By Brittany Willes, editor, PostPress

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, one of the key issues facing leadership across nearly every industry was that of recruiting and retaining the next generation of employees. For the print finishing and binding industry, workforce development is especially crucial as the older generation – often with decades of specialized knowledge and skill sets – begins to retire. So, how do businesses find the right people to fill the necessary roles in their facilities? During the FSEA Online Learning Experience this past June, marketing and communications expert Shelly Otenbaker, president and founder of WayPoint Marketing Communications, shared current human resources marketing trends and best practices for recruiting the next-generation workforce.

Marketing for employees

There is a common myth that marketing is solely for business development. In reality, a company’s marketing resources and strategies are incredible assets when it comes to attracting and retaining the best employees.

“Marketing plays an important role in the hiring process,” said Otenbaker. “It creates awareness of your company, as well as engaging the right people to move them through the different phases of the hiring process.”

Consider the sales funnel – the process of attracting leads and moving them through the funnel to the intent to purchase. This is similar to how employers should consider their workforce. “Think about your workforces as an audience and the funnel is an employee acquisition funnel,” explained Otenbaker. In this acquisition funnel, employers should make use of their marketing resources to attract potential new hires. Similar to the sales funnel, the acquisition funnel begins with creating awareness, followed by consideration and interest. In this case, the intent to purchase becomes the application, selection and hiring process.

As Otenbaker noted, marketing is a key component in moving potential employees through the tunnel by attracting just the right candidates. “If someone searches for your company online, what do they find?” she questioned. If the next-generation workforce is the audience, what message are they receiving about a given company?

“In 2020, 50% of the workforce is made up of millennials, who look at things very differently than previous generations,” said Otenbaker. “These folks know all about your company before they even submit an application or resume. They’re qualifying you and your company without a single conversation. Seventy-five percent have researched the company’s reputation before applying for the job. They’re using social media, job boards and other sources to determine what your company offers, how you operate and what your commitment is to your team.”

A company needs to look at all of its marketing and recruiting materials – read them, analyze them and see what they say. What picture is being created about the company? Is it easy for people to access the materials? Are they up to date? Do they reflect the company’s culture? Is the website inviting? “It’s time to really be honest with yourself,” said Otenbaker. “Take a step back and look at what it is you’re sharing with the world.”

Which, again, begs the question: How are companies marketing themselves to this new audience? What messaging are they passing along to potential hires? Now, more than ever, it is just as important to sell the company to potential employees as it is to sell products and services to clients.

Evolving needs and processes

“A lot has changed in the last two decades when it comes to talent acquisition,” said Otenbaker. “The process has evolved and so have the needs and wants of the next-generation workforce. This is the generation that grew up with smart technology, that is known to challenge hierarchical structures. They want the flexibility to work when and where they want. They are open to change, and they want to build relationships with managers that deliver constant feedback and recognition. They’re looking for a place where they can continue to advance, as well as someplace where they can have a social and enjoyable workplace.”

This is in stark contrast to previous generations for whom flexible schedules and work/life balance were rarely on leadership’s radar. As a result, a large portion of today’s leadership is resistant to the evolving needs of the current workforce, something Otenbaker has encountered all too often.

“Unfortunately, a lot of companies’ leadership are not open to some of these characteristics or changes in the workplace that are appealing to the younger generation of workers,” she stated. “There’s work to be done,” Otenbaker noted. “As the current workforce continues to age and more people are going to be retiring, leadership is going to have to embrace these younger generations. Adjustments will need to be made.”

For companies to continue to grow and succeed in the current and future marketplace, it is vital that leadership support the needs of the next generation workforce.

Talent management

According to Otenbaker, to effectively recruit a workforce, companies need to develop a talent management strategy. “Statistics show that people change jobs 12 times during their career,” she stated. “While it could be a little longer or shorter in the print industry, the average employee tenure is roughly 4.3 years. This means you will need to continuously replenish your workforce.”

A typical talent management strategy includes the establishment of a talent pipeline – a pool of candidates available before a position is even open. This, in turn, means a reduction in the amount of time required to hire candidates, access to better-qualified candidates and reduction in recruiting costs.

So, how do companies go about establishing a talent pipeline? There are several steps that can be taken, but first and foremost, Otenbaker said, companies need to identify their long-term needs. “What are the employee characteristics – the types of people – you need in the long run to continue to meet your business’ goals?” she asked. “Once you have that, you can work on attracting and engaging candidates.”

Candidates in the talent pool should be assessed to determine which of them are the right fit. Who are those candidates who will best align with the business’ goals? Those are the candidates to nurture.

“It’s not something that can be done overnight,” said Otenbaker. “It takes time, and there are a lot of resources that have to be put into place. However, once all of the strategy and work has been put into it, and it finally is up and going, it is a lot easier to maintain.”

Additional steps for establishing a pipeline include conducting an audit of the business – i.e., going back to those marketing and recruiting materials. Once those have been reviewed, it is vital to secure the support of leadership. “Company leadership needs to agree that talent and the future workforce is important for the company’s success, and that building a pipeline will help the company perform better,” noted Otenbaker.

Next, connect with HR and/or marketing departments and make sure they are aligned and working in tandem, leveraging their tools and resources to build the talent pipeline. Once HR and marketing are aligned, focus should be turned to determining metrics for what success looks like for the company and establishing a budget for meeting those metrics.

“What are you trying to accomplish and how will you measure the effectiveness of your strategy?” asked Otenbaker. “Some of your metrics might look at reduced time to replace an employee or filling all talent gaps within a certain time frame. Whatever those success metrics look like, they need to be in place so that you understand what you’re trying to accomplish and can plan accordingly. And you need to understand what kind of budget you have to work with so you can prioritize tasks and determine what can be accomplished within that budget.”

Finally, companies must build an “employer brand tool box” that will help in attracting talent. “The most important tool is your website,” said Otenbaker. “It is the foundation for all of your recruiting activities, not to mention business development activities. Whether it is a customer or a potential candidate, people are looking at your website every day and making decisions on whether or not to engage with you. If your desired brand identity doesn’t match with your website, you may lose potential candidates.”

Recruiting during COVID-19

As COVID-19 continues to spread across the US and the world, many companies are experiencing a hiring freeze – or even layoffs. Depending on their individual situations, continuing to develop a talent pipeline may be the last thing they’re worried about. However, Otenbaker advised not to let efforts with the talent pipeline fall by the wayside.

“Continue working on your pipeline through the hiring freeze,” she stated. “If you stop now, it will put you behind when we get on the other side or are dealing with the new normal. You want to continue to work on it and make sure you are communicating what’s going on with your company to ensure you are appropriately staffed and ready to react throughout the crisis.”

With nearly 20 years of marketing communications experience under her belt, Shelly Otenbaker has the experience, knowledge and determination to help companies develop and implement strategic communications strategies focused on improving their business’ bottom line. For more information, visit