One-on-One with Dr. Jonnetta Thomas-Chambers

By: Jeff Nazzaro

As 2020 wheezed into 2021 and the nation began its long, slow recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the biggest challenge facing American companies, from the Fortune 500 down to mom-and-pop retailers, was recruitment and hiring. Now, as 2021 pants towards its vaccine-aided conclusion, employers can reflect back on the “Great Resignation.” Fewer and fewer women are returning full-time to the workforce, and, most notably perhaps, an acute skills gap is exacerbating those challenges, leaving talent acquisition professionals and HR managers scrambling to adequately fill positions—even as unemployment claims continue to drop.

“Fewer and fewer women are returning to the workforce…”

UCR University Extension Instructor Jonnetta Thomas Chambers In what could be likened to a case of “physicians, heal thyselves,” UCR University Extension instructor, Dr. Jonnetta Thomas-Chambers, who recently wrapped up a section of Employee Recruitment, Selection, and Retention (a required course for the Human Resources Management Professional Certificate Program), asserts that the best way for both seasoned HR professionals, and those looking to enter the recruitment game to counter these persistent challenges, is to confront and close their own skills gaps.

“We’re dealing with something that we haven’t seen before, and some of us with 10, 15, 20 years of experience still need to go back to the drawing board and say, ‘Hey, what are we going to do now?’ We’ve seen a shift. We need to try something different here, because what we’ve been used to, what was working, isn’t working anymore—they’ve got to raise their game,” Jonnetta said. “I’m finding that with more and more of our students, especially since the pandemic, staying up-to-date and really connecting with and understanding the job market, are the areas where they need the most support.”

“Those new to the job market are emerging as fearless negotiators…”

Adding to the challenges are generational factors, where those relatively new to, or just entering the job market are emerging as fearless negotiators. They are armed with the latest data on salary and benefits levels, while seasoned workers have years of experience that may have allowed them to accrue savings that give them the financial security to hold out for the perfect job situation. It is primarily for these reasons that Jonnetta sees the current climate as a decidedly employees’ market, placing additional pressure on recruiters and HR managers throughout the hiring process—all the way up to the negotiating table and beyond.

“Generations Y and Z want to know that they’re working together in a partnership instead of a hierarchy. They want to have it genuine, but they don’t want to feel like they’re at work with their parents, with someone who’s always bossing them around, telling them what to do—that’s a big turnoff for millennials,” explained Jonnetta.

“For the folks who are 40 to 60, they’ve saved a nest egg and they’re saying, ‘Wait a minute, based on the working conditions, based on my perception of how I think employers are going to treat me or the reality of what I’ve already experienced, before I go back to work so quickly, what do I want to do in the next phase of this life?’ And they can afford to do that, so they’re walking away.”

“Those who are 40 to 60 have savings, and can afford to walk away…”

Complicating all of this further, according to Jonnetta, is the current divide between those who believe we are still in a pandemic and those who feel it has become an endemic, which she says is creating a disconnect within the job market where the perception of safety of some prospective employees has an effect on the role they are currently willing to play in an organization.

“They still have a pandemic mentality, while other people are merging more towards an endemic mentality,” Jonnetta said, “but when you’re a recruiter, you have to understand how that’s going to affect your pull, the quality of your candidates, and ultimately, your response rate.”

While much has been written about the quality of current jobseekers, Jonnetta ultimately believes that idea oversimplifies things and employers need to rethink everything from how they write their job descriptions to how many and what types of questions to ask during interviews. Retaining existing employees is always the more prudent strategy, but when filling a vacated position, she said, it is equally crucial to have an up-to-date job description that gives a new hire a realistic perspective as to what will be expected of them.

“Employers need to rethink everything, starting with how they write job descriptions…”

“The pandemic really exposed a lot of things, so we have to go back and tighten up the belt and restructure, reorganize, redo our approach—especially with recruiting,” Jonnetta said. “If we want great results, we can’t just simply blame it on the job market. We have to come to the other side and take a hard look at the HR management practitioners, the structure of the department, and how the department flows. Is everyone properly trained? Because your definition of properly trained from five years ago probably isn’t going to work today. Most likely, it wasn’t going to work before the pandemic anyway, but the pandemic has pushed everybody into a corner, and that light of exposure is just so bright.”