When it comes to attracting and retaining talent in northeast Indiana, Human Resources professionals are on the frontlines of the fight.
Along with finding creative ways to fill talent gaps and keep employees satisfied on the job, they’re in charge of staying up-to-date on an ever-evolving list of legal regulations that could make or break businesses.
But after generations of being relegated to the softer side of company conversations, they're finally being recognized for the value they bring to organizations.
As forward-thinking leaders realize the importance of the people side of business and the significance of company culture, they’re pulling HR representatives into more critical strategy meetings to share insights and help organizations chart innovative paths into the future.
Business leaders are pulling HR professionals into more meetings to help direct company culture and inform strategic decisions.
This shift comes at a critical time when Indiana, as a whole, faces the uncertainty of a growing talent gap in its workforce. As of 2020, 60 percent of jobs in the U.S. require post-secondary education of some sort, yet only 30 percent of Indiana residents ages 25-34 currently have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
On top of that, more people are retiring than are entering the workforce.
So who are some of the leading voices in HR shaping northeast Indiana’s business strategies, and how are they equipping themselves to make a positive impact on the regional economy?
Many are members of NIHRA, or the Northeast Indiana Human Resources Association
, based in Fort Wayne. NIHRA hosts monthly meetings and annual conferences that bring HR professionals together from across the region to network, share strategies and ideas, and learn from some of the leading thinkers in HR nationwide.
Input Fort Wayne sat down with four NIHRA members who work for different northeast Indiana employers to give you a glimpse into their perspectives on what it takes to attract and retain talent in the modern workforce.
Meet our interviewees
From left to right, Steigmeyer, Mast, White, and Renteria.
Nancy Steigmeyer (NS):
NIHRA President and Vice President of HR at Lasting Change, Inc.
, a mental health services organization that is the parent company of Lifeline Youth & Family
and Crosswinds Counseling
. Steigmeyer has been in her current position for two years, a member of the NIHRA for eight years, and in HR for 18 years.
Lindsay Mast (LM):
Benefits Manager at DMA (DuCharme, McMillen & Associates, Inc.)
a tax consulting firm headquartered in the Ash Skyline building in downtown Fort Wayne. Mast has been in her current position for four years, a member of the NIHRA for seven years, and in HR for seven years.
Morgan White (MW)
: Supervisor of Talent Acquisition at Parkview Health
, the branch of Parkview’s HR team that does hiring for the entire hospital network (except for physician recruiting). White has been in her current position for two years, a member of NIHRA for three years, and in HR for 8.5 years.
Rose Renteria (RR):
HR Director at the Superior Auto, Inc.
, home office in Fort Wayne. Renteria
has been in her current position for eight years, a member of NIHRA for 20+ years, and in HR for 30 years.
IFW: What initially attracted you to HR?
Like a lot of people, I sort of happened into HR. I started working in a temp office, recruiting, filling, and hiring positions. That turned into getting more versed in the laws and legal side of things like workers comp. I ended up pursuing advanced degrees in organizational leadership, and they tied into HR, too.
I actually first became interested in HR because of the HR person at my first job. The impact she was able to have on people’s lives was really intriguing to me. So being able to help people on a personal level was what first attracted me to this work.
My interest started with my internship at Parkview in HR and Talent Acquisition, specifically. But I like that every day is different in this job, and you’re always facing new challenges.
I love solving problems, and of course, in HR, ours are all people problems for the most part. It’s the unknown factor. Every day, I get managers calling me at any given time, and I have no idea what they’re going to throw on my plate for me to solve.
That’s what makes it fun and challenging. You never know what you’re going to get when you answer the phone.
IFW: A lot of people might think they know what HR professionals do, but what is one thing that might surprise them about your work?
One thing people probably don’t know about HR jobs is that we practically have to be lawyers these days. There are laws around everything, and with the internet, employees are educating themselves to know their rights. But one mistake could result in a costly lawsuit.
I think the thing that would surprise people most is how much change is in the world of HR. Things like jobs, employees, policies, expectations—just to name a few—change regularly. HR professionals have to stay on top of all of these changes to be impactful to both the employees and the organization as a whole.
IFW: You’ve all been in HR for varying amounts of time, from seven years to 30 years. How has the industry and the work evolved over the course of your careers?
Being in the benefits arena, the healthcare system as changed dramatically, and it’s currently in a whirlwind situation with the Affordable Care Act. But generally speaking, I’ve also noticed that slowly, but surely, HR has been starting to be used as a strategy arm of organizations—especially here at DMA.
Our leadership has been realizing that HR does have a wealth of knowledge of things they need to be aware of, but are not clued into every day. We keep track of the laws that impact employees and companies as they’re trying to grow, like immigration policies.
So, they’re trying to make us a bigger piece of the puzzle in all aspects of the company here.
I agree. Way back when I first started, we were the paper shoppers in HR. All of the decisions were made by the business leaders. Then the paperwork landed on our desk, and we finished it up and filed it. That was about it.
I’ve been in the industry for 30 years now, and in that time, it’s been a drastic change. We’ve been going paperless, but we’ve also become so much more strategic and involved in business opportunities. HR finally has a seat at the table, and we’re there knowing what’s going on with the business on a highly informed level and able to offer our advice.
There’s been a lot more technology used in the recruitment process, too, like electronic applications and virtual interviews—even texting. We have a text Parkview number (97211), so even by text message, people are connecting with recruiters.
We’ve also started using a mobile recruitment vehicle and two talent ambassadors who are actually going outside of our region to target different schools and community events to promote Parkview and our region and help bring talent back to this area.
We approach finding talent in as many ways as we can.
Parkview uses a mobile recruitment vehicle staffed by two talent ambassadors to find talent.
I’ve been in HR for 18 years, and I’ve seen a change even since I’ve been with my company for the past two years. About a month ago, I joined the officer’s team at my company, and it speaks to how HR has a bigger hand in the overall company’s scope and culture.
I have a day-to-day team that focuses on typical HR business, and I focus on things from an organizational development perspective.
For 2020, our company’s focus—and my focus I preach to the HR team—is all about employee experience, and how does that fit into our work? As a mental health services organization, people are our business, and the turnover rate for employees industrywide in mental health services is always high, around 35-45 percent annually.
We’re a little higher than that right now because we’re in the process of reorganizing, and because of the current state of our national economy, so we’ve got to improve that employee experience.
Right now, the economy is good, and unemployment is low, but that means all of the really good people are already gainfully employed, so how do we attract and retain talent? We’re offering more perks and benefits and recognitions.
I’m working on a recognition program right now and other things like sign-on bonuses. Those are all totally different issues we’re dealing with that weren’t necessary 10 years ago when we were in an economic crisis.
Back then, we had tons of applicants and not enough jobs, so everything is flipped.
Amplify the good economy with the fact that we only have a few available employees in rural parts of Indiana, and things get even more difficult.
IFW: Speaking of difficulties in finding talent, what are some of the biggest challenges facing HR professionals in northeast Indiana?
We’ve struggled to pinpoint what we need to do to maintain a culture that attracts and retains the employees we need.
We’ve implemented things like volunteer time off, which is a full day or two half-days you can take to volunteer and give back to the community. If you give to an organization financially, we’ll match 50 percent of what you donate.
We also have reimbursement programs for fitness, standing desks, recreation rooms, and nice spaces to take a break. We know that we can’t expect everyone to sit at their desks for 8 hours a day, so we’ve made a lot of changes in the past two years, and those are some of the high points.
I would say meeting employees' needs and expectations is probably our biggest challenge. We have a workforce of close to 700 employees, and I would say about 450 of them all work from home because that’s how our business is structured. They don’t have offices to go to, so it does make our jobs more flexible, but what I have learned is that not every personality style is suited to be working from home. I know that I couldn’t work from home every day because I’m a people person, and most people in social work are, so the challenge is that working from home could also make them dissatisfied.
Working from home is a growing trend, but it doesn't work for everyone.
With the low unemployment rate nationally, there’s a big talent shortage, which is probably the biggest issue for all employers right now. But one of our challenges, specifically, is flexibility. Employees today expect a tremendous amount of flexibility, and not all businesses can offer that.
At our business, we’re operating auto dealerships, so we need our people at the dealerships, and we can’t be very flexible on the hours, so we can’t always meet the expectations of what a lot of the workforce is looking for, which limits in who we can attract and retain.
With unemployment rates low, it is getting harder to find talent. We’ve added incentives, and we’ve really been promoting growth and continued education opportunities at Parkview. We have tuition assistance programs to help retain talent and attract talent, too. Any coworker at Parkview, as long as they work a part-time position or more, is eligible to utilize tuition assistance, where we reimburse your tuition up to a certain dollar amount, depending on your degree program. We also partner with Ivy Tech to offer an Achieve Your Degree program for associate’s degrees where we cover the cost upfront versus a reimbursement.
IFW: Tell us more about some of the talent gaps you’re seeing in your industries and the ways you’re working to fill those gaps.
We went through an experience about a year and a half ago at my company, looking for licensed social workers with master’s degrees or family certifications, because that’s a huge talent gap for us.
We operate throughout the entire state, and in smaller markets with 2-3 percent unemployment rates, we don’t have many clinical social workers to serve clients. Yet, we need to have licensed therapists to do therapeutic counseling.
So we decided to launch a career track program to develop our own therapists, paying for a portion of their schooling and providing them with clinical supervision in-house when we can.
We partner with area schools, primarily Indiana Wesleyan, and we’re using that funnel to grow our own talent. Our goal is to develop 100 therapists as interns annually and walk them through that process, so we’ve had to get creative to fill the talent gap.
Our biggest talent gap at Parkview right now is Registered Nurses (RNs), and that’s an issue both nationally and locally, so we’re doing things both in our region and outside of the region to fill this gap.
Outside of the region, we’re using our mobile recruitment talent ambassadors to do roadshows and job fairs, going to other cities to promote Parkview.
In our region, we’re trying to find opportunities, starting at the high school level, to expose students to the direct patient care side of things, and we’ve created a career path internally to get those students into RN positions.
IFW: Northeast Indiana itself has evolved a lot in the last 10 years. To what degree has this impacted your talent attraction and retention efforts?
It’s really helped our talent attraction efforts. We are finding that when we get out of the region and talk about Parkview and the Fort Wayne area, people now know about us. So it’s definitely helped to have more progress here and more news about what’s happening in this region.
Before now, people didn’t really know anything about our region, so we’ve been working with the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership to really promote Fort Wayne.
Having an office in downtown Fort Wayne at the Ash Skyline building, we have noticed how it’s easier to get people through our doors for interviews. We have a beautiful outdoor space here at the Ash building, and it’s smack dab in the middle of where some of the coolest city growth is happening. There’s stuff to do at lunch and lots of good restaurants to go to, which has helped us at this particular office. But we’re only 50 employees here, so it’s only part of the puzzle.
We’ve seen that the growth and development of Fort Wayne—particularly downtown—have made it easier for us to attract employees and to keep them.
We also see more people who complete college are coming back to Fort Wayne right out of school. It used to be that they wanted to live in Chicago or Indianapolis first, but now, they’re coming back to Fort Wayne.
Eight years ago, I was working in Indianapolis myself, and from a distance, I was seeing all of the changes happening here, and I couldn’t wait to come back.
I was a transplant here, and what I love about Fort Wayne is that it’s a big small town. It’s big enough that there are cultural offerings and wonderful things to do downtown. (I’m a big proponent of downtown.) But it’s also small enough that you can go to the grocery store and probably run into someone you know.
IFW: When you’re attracting talent to the region, what are some of the biggest things that top talent is looking for?
It depends. Some of them like the downtown atmosphere; some of them like the countryside. But it’s nice because northeast Indiana has both. When we talk to candidates, we always tell them about the downtown amenities, outdoor activities, parks and trails, as well as the area’s schools and quality of life.
Amenities like the Fort Wayne Trails are popular, and the Parkview Field ballpark is great. The Fort Wayne Philharmonic and Embassy Theatre are popular, too. It’s a whole mixed bag of what this city has going for it. People have liked to see that we’re building more residential units downtown.
The team at DMA enjoys a Tincaps game together at Parkview Field.
I always tell people that every weekend, there’s something to do, and there’s something for everybody here.
It’s a family-friendly city, too, which is a draw for people wanting to settle down. You can still go to downtown events, and most of them are family-friendly during the day. Then at night, there’s more of a nightlife vibe.
IFW: How are your companies working to retain and grow talent that is already in northeast Indiana?
At Superior Auto, we’ve been adding incentives, like salary increases. I have had to go to our CEO to ask for salary increases more times in the past two years than I have in the past six years. But I have had to do it. We want people to be happy, so we keep changing our incentive plans to make them better and retain talent.
One thing we’ve just implemented with our HR team is using resources to do lunch and learns. We’ve had local organizations like Fort Wayne Trails come in and talk with our employees about biking in the city. We’ve had financial advisers and ergonomics professionals come in, and they all teach us about things during the lunch hour.
Going back to offering continued education assistance. We work hard to grow our talent at Parkview by providing leadership development programs to our internal coworkers so they can grow with us.
We’re also getting into high schools, sharing the job opportunities they can go into once they graduate, but also having some opportunities for employment while they’re still in high school, too.
IFW: What excites you about the future of HR?
HR has become a cornerstone for most businesses and how they operate. I was meeting with our CEO a couple of weeks ago and talking about our strategic plan, and he was like, “HR is a part of all of this.” That’s a huge eye-opener for business leaders—realizing that there’s a people piece that goes into everything is huge.
I’m excited to see the training, development resources, and technologies that can help with the ongoing growth of the workforce in our area.