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Idaho Business Out Loud interview: Louisa Waldman, Robert Half regional vice president

Robert Half, a global human resource consulting firm, recently released its 2020 Salary Guides, which offer a deep dive into compensation for hundreds of positions.

The guides reveal starting salary ranges, the latest hiring trends, tools to recruit top talent, desired perks and benefits and more.

With the U.S. unemployment hovering at 3.6% and Idaho’s rate at 2.9%, the battle for top talent is fierce, particularly in industries like technology and health care.

Recently, the Idaho Business Out Loud podcast sat down with Louisa Waldman, Robert Half regional vice president overseeing the Oregon and Boise offices, to talk more about the latest Salary Guides and general staffing trends.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

A big topic that we hear about a lot in discussions on HR and staffing is how wages in Idaho compare to other states because there is a noticeable difference, especially from the markets where people are coming from to move here. What are your thoughts on that gap?

I think there’s been a gap for a long time, and we’ve seen over the last couple of years the gap has lessened. So there are companies in the market that are starting to be more aware and take action on wages. But the Boise market is 11% below the national average. That’s important because when you’re trying to attract people in or you’re trying to retain your current staff, that number is key. To give you a comparison, Salt Lake City is 8% above the national average, and the Portland market is 11% above the national average. So I think in the treasure Valley, employers haven’t necessarily kept up and that does pose a great challenge.

What can businesses do to overcome that to recruit the talent they need?

People work for a living, for money, but we also find that there’s a lot of things that employees really want in an employer. They want a lot of things when they look at their total package. So we recommend thinking about the employees’ development. That’s kind of a priceless thing. You can also look at the benefits that you’re offering. Health care benefits are really critical. We are also finding that people are really interested in wellness packages with companies.

So when they think about what company they’re going to go work for, what company they’re going to stay at, they want fitness, they want wellness packages, they want remote access or flexible schedules.

So we can offer them a lifestyle.

Yeah, I think you have to take care of the whole person. Employees come to work and they do a job, but they also have a life outside of that. So how can you, as an employer, offer all of that to them? You can offer them competitive wages and then you can also offer them things that don’t necessarily cost money.

When you were compiling the data for the report, what wages and hot jobs have you seen on the rise?

Wages in the technology industry in particular are on the rise, and those skill sets are hard to find. For a software engineer, there are 147 candidates and 1,483 jobs.

Financial analysts and staff accountants are very low, less than 1%. And administrative assistants and legal secretaries. So those are some of the positions that come up as the hardest to find or hardest to fill.

Your 2020 Salary Guide covers several different industries. What specifics can you give us on each of those industries?

The different industries that we see consistent growth, particularly in Idaho, is health care. Natural resources are growing, professional and business services, education, manufacturing and financial activities. And then tied with that is, obviously, are those positions in demand that we just discussed? Those particular industries are the ones that are growing, and we’re anticipating the trend will continue in those sectors.

What other projections for 2020 do you have in the report?

Still a strong economy and hiring managers are now thinking ahead. Savvy firms are starting to be more strategic in hiring, and so they’re not just filling an open seat, but they’re looking at the future. We’re seeing a lot of firms are open to relocation, and they’re more generous with those relocation packages.

And then we’re also seeing locally that people are moving here from three states in particular: California, Arizona and Washington.

It’s interesting that we’re seeing that considering that the competitive markets you’ve mentioned earlier, Portland and Salt Lake City, are so close by. What do you think is the reason that businesses are locating here to Boise?

Cost of living, obviously, has a lot to do with that too. And in a lot of the national publications, Boise is listed at the top in many cases on places to live, places to retire, to have an outdoor lifestyle. I think that’s attracting a lot of people in.

Also there’s the market that those people are coming from. In many cases, they can’t afford to buy property there or they can’t afford to buy a house or the commute times in many of those areas is ever increasing.

People are coming here for the quality of life, but they have a great demand for wages, which is why the local economy needs to get on board with taking a look at that so they can keep these people here and they can retain the people that they have on their staff.

That leads into my next question about the rapid growth that we’re seeing. How can companies address this to recruit and retain talent?

We’ve touched on it a little earlier, the development of staff. We do a lot of surveys on staff retention and attracting people, and what we found is that people really want feedback. They want more consistent feedback than an annual review. And they also want discussions around what their career development is, what the succession planning looks like. So if you want to retain people, you’ve got to ask the people what they want and then you’ve got to develop programs that align with what those people want.

Philanthropy was another thing that we heard from a lot of the up-and-coming generations that have recently entered the workforce and are going to be entering the workforce. The culture is very important to them. They’re looking for companies that invest in them but that also invest in their local community.

Was there any data that you were surprised to find when compiling the report?

Something that did surprise us is that candidates are quitting positions without another role in hand, which is maybe a little surprising because there are so many opportunities out there. I think what you’re finding is that if they don’t enjoy the position where they’re at or they’re not getting what they need, they can quit that position and go find a new position and there isn’t going to be that much lag time because there is so much opportunity.

We’re also seeing job search restarts. If the process takes too long for a company to hire, then they lose all the candidates that are in process with them and they have to restart their candidate search.

We’re also seeing that companies are relaxing their job descriptions a bit more. If the person has the aptitude to learn something, they may relax those job descriptions.

I think they are having a difficult time finding people that have that experience. So as an employer, if you take the mindset that you can train somebody into a position if they have the right attitude and the right cultural fit to your organization, I think there’s a lot more engagement from that employee.

What major changes have you seen in the past year and do you see on the horizon, specifically here in Idaho?

Right now it’s predicted that one in four employees are going to quit their positions in the next 12 months. We’re still seeing that as a major trend in this market. And we are seeing that companies in the Treasure Valley are willing to be a little bit more flexible. I think they are willing to train people.

Remote access is something that we’re seeing more of as well.

So what resources are there for businesses to determine what kind of wages to set and how to handle their recruitment processes?

Well, the Salary Guide that Robert Half puts out is a great guideline. And if somebody locally has a question about a particular position that they’re trying to staff for, they can always give Robert Half a call, and we can give them the information, even if they choose not to work with us. We interview thousands of people and work with thousands of companies in the Treasure Valley. So I would say that that’s one thing that they could do.

As far as recruitment goes, Robert Half does do a lot of surveys and there is a lot of good information for hiring managers out there. We have quite a few white papers that people can take advantage of if they were looking at how to build a retention system or how to get more employee engagement or how to work with hiring managers.

What insights can you share for candidates who are looking for jobs?

It is a candidates’ market right now. So I would say, first and foremost, you can use the Salary Guide if you are looking for a position to know your worth.

Also representing yourself online is, I think, a really key thing that a potential candidate or a potential employee would want to do. LinkedIn is one of those tools that Robert Half uses, as do a lot of recruiters. If you are looking for a position, you’d want to make sure that profile is up to date, that it has all the accurate information on it,  that it really depicts you in the way that you want to be depicted. You can put out there that you are seeking employment or that you are looking for opportunities.

And if you are working, it should be fairly private. You might not want your employer to know that you’re looking for a position. I would highly recommend that you also connect with lots of people on LinkedIn. But it’s quality versus quantity. It’s not one of those other social media networks where you want to have as many likes as possible or as many friends. Think about who you might want to reach out to from a reference perspective. And if you’re connected to those people on LinkedIn – maybe it’s a prior employer or prior supervisor – that’s one way that you can start to build out your process for looking for a new position.

I think if you can be proactive, it helps a lot because certainly looking for a position can be quite stressful. Making sure that if you have other social media accounts that those might be private if you don’t want employers to access that, because they probably will. I always recommend to people that they build a brand for themselves using different social media and making sure that it looks the way that they would want it to look for a potential employer.

About Liz Patterson Harbauer