In this episode of the Recruitment Hackers Podcast, Director of Talent Acquisition at Prestige Care (assisted living and skilled nursing care centers in the U.S), Blake Thiess, talks about how their strategy to source and hire personnel evolved during the pandemic. It’s not so much about cutting edge tech, but foundational changes, including a new job position: Regional Talent Acquisition Partner.
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Welcome to the recruitment hackers podcast. A show about innovation, technology and leaders in the recruitment industry brought to you by Talkpush, the leading recruitment automation platform.
Max: Hello, everybody. Welcome back to the Recruitment Hackers podcast with max. And today I'm pleased to welcome on the show Blake Thiess from Prestige Care. Welcome to the show, Blake.
Blake: Yeah. Hey, thanks for having me Max. Really excited to be here and just chat with you about all things recruiting.
Max: Absolutely. Great.
Well, we're interested in finding out more about Prestige Care and in the midst of this 2020 pandemic I imagine you have encountered some pretty unique operational challenges trying to bring in people to your facilities, tell us a little bit about, as an introduction, who you are what you do at prestige care and then maybe a little bit about your company.
Blake: Yeah, no doubt, Max. Thanks. So, I'm the Director of Talent Acquisition for Prestige Care and we own and operate over 80 assisted living and skilled nursing care centers up and down the West coast of the United States. Mainly in Oregon and Washington, but our footprint does extend down into California, Arizona, Nevada.
We have one up in Anchorage, Alaska one in Kalispell, Montana, but really, and truly we're a Pacific Northwest company, family owned and operated since day one, over 35 years ago, we employ about 5,000 people in that eight state geographic footprint. And we serve about 5,000 residents. That's what we call them.
They're not patients, they’re residents. We live and work in their homes. In my role with Prestige Care, I oversee the entire Talent Acquisition function for a half a billion dollar enterprise with over 80 locations, all areas of talent, acquisition recruiting, whether it be, overseeing the ATS, the employment brand, any sort of TA or recruiting technology integration.
Anything involving talent acquisition recruiting. I oversee, I live and breathe this stuff. I love what I do. And most importantly, I love who I get to do it with. Outside of just the professional realm here at Prestige. I'm able to speak at a local and national level on all things recruiting and talent acquisition as well, which is something I really love to do.
So, that's a little bit about me and Prestige Care really from the macro, Max.
Max: Thank you. Great. And, those 5,000, headcount over the West coast. Could you give us a feel for where the bulk of your hiring is? I imagine a lot of registered nurses.
Blake: Yeah. Good assumption there, Max.
Yeah, the vast majority of the folks that we employ are clinical in nature. So those certified nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses, registered nurses, that's on the skilled nursing vertical of our business. On the assisted living memory care side, we're going to split right down the middle half of those 80 are skilled nursing facilities.
And then the other half are assisted living memory cares. On the AL side, the lion's share of those that we employ are personal care attendants. Some outfits might call them caregivers, medication technicians, people who distribute medication. But, we also employ a number of different operational tech professionals that work in these locations.
So you're talking: facilities, we call them maintenance professionals, many culinary professionals: cooks, line cooks, dishwashers, chefs, people of that nature, really any type of professional to, you know, oversee and help run a skilled nursing or assisted living community.
Max: I'm actually paying a visit or a friend in a nursing home later today.
I don't know what the food is like at Prestige, but in my case, I'm always bringing him a little bit of food from the outside world.
Blake: Well, you know, I've been able to visit. I mean, I've been here for over five years, a little over two of those years have been in my director of TA role and I've been to probably half of them.
And I'm not just saying this. Our food is terrific. You know, if you go to our jobs at Prestige, LinkedIn, Facebook page. I actually like to post photos of the food that our chefs prepare. I'm telling you, it looks like a straight off Instagram, Max.
Max: Wow. Well, I could see why you're in recruitment. Because you're a strong salesman, but I reserve… I'd like to believe it when I see it.
Before we jump into maybe this pandemic matter, the type of people that you hire. I mean, of course when we think, assisted care living immediately, we think doctors and nurses, but then there's all this other stuff that's around it, where maybe they're a little bit less demanding on qualification, but just as demanding, if not more on soft skills, like empathy and the likes. How have you, sort of structured and automated your pre-screening in order to find the right talents there, particularly for those folks who are interacting with the patients on a daily basis?
Blake: Yeah. Good question. I wish I had some groundbreaking answer for you, Max. But you know, ever since the pandemic hit in mid to latter March. You know, it has been a challenge. I don't know how else to say that. I mean, it's, here's a great example. So, I sit on the class advisory boards for our applicant tracking system, which is Healthcare Source.
And so I have access to all data points and things. And I was sitting in a meeting yesterday or pardon me last week, week, before. Year over year for all of the Healthcare Source clients, they have seen a 40% decrease in overall applications for certified nursing assistants year over year, you know, in the RN rates, 25 to 30% decrease in overall applications.
And so I wish I had a really great answer on how we've leveraged AI or tech to understand, somebody’s empathy quotient for instance, or something of that nature. But honestly, the volume of our applicants has just bottomed out. So, you know, I hate saying this, but you know, if somebody pre-qualifies, if they're a CNA or if they have that RN license and they have any sort of relevant experience, we're going to talk with them.
That's just the reality of the market that we're in right now, especially the last six, seven, eight months.
Max: Okay. Well, that does ring familiar. Yes. So sourcing is where the battle is and expanding the talent pool will make you do desperate things sometimes, go in places you wouldn't go.
One area, which has seen a lot of growth, we’ve seen in 2020 is the rise of Facebook jobs as a sourcing platform. Have you been able to get some of your healthcare — we don't have to spill the beans on your trade secrets — just out of curiosity, is that an area where you're seeing a little bit of traffic?
Blake: Yeah. You know, we were leveraging Facebook, and Instagram to build our employer brand long before March, 2020, you know, pre COVID. To build our brand, to get visibility out in the marketplace. So I wouldn't say that we've necessarily doubled or tripled down on our efforts there.
I think there's opportunity there for us and quite frankly, any organization, but I think what might be a value to them, those listening is, you know, we actually piloted a new way in which we support our skilled nursing care centers out in the field. And so I've piloted, I developed this job title which was called the Regional Talent Acquisition Partner.
So basically, if you take Max an HR business partner role and only, you strip away everything else, except the TA kind of recruiting function of that role, that's what I've developed. And so why that has been a big value add for our organization, it's a lot more high touch of our applicants.
The Regional Talent Acquisition Partner does a lot of training and development of our onsite folks who are charged with doing the recruiting at our local level. And at the local level, they are not HR professionals and they sure as heck aren’t recruiters. These regional talent acquisition partners are doing a phenomenal job of training and developing our local operators.
Number one, but number two, really driving the recruiting process forward. And that's really proven to be a game changer for us because not only are they doing a lot of cold sourcing to your point earlier, that's you know, the companies who are doing a lot of cold sourcing are really winning right now.
But also it's providing more of a white glove service to our operators out in the field, which in turn, and to use business terminology, we haven't had to go into agency as much to staff these CNA, LPN and RN roles. And as such, we're saving the company a lot of money, through, well, cost savings.
Max: Yeah. Yeah. Great. The one part, I guess, that the hiring managers or operators will never really get good at is, you know, they may get good at interviewing and all that. And even increasing, candidate referrals, which probably is a very important factor in your world.
Because, I mean, medical professionals know other medical professionals. Right. But where they're not going to be so strong, perhaps, is digital marketing and sourcing on digital platforms, that would be the one piece that remains kind of centralized, I guess.
Blake: Yeah. You know, in a perfect world I could employ a full time Talent Acquisition, digital marketer. I really could, but in the absence of that these regional talent acquisition partners are charged with building, localize employment brand and employer value proposition at the local level.
So that's really how Max, that's really one of the ways in which our organization has, I'm gonna use the term responded to an unprecedented time. I've heard the term unprecedented, so many stinking times over the last seven, eight months, but it's really true. I mean, how we have evolved and just kind of rolled with the punches and, you know, really have done a phenomenal job kind of weathering this storm.
I mean, there's a lot of opportunity, but, I think we're on the right track.
Max: Yeah. And, the President, gave a speech yesterday saying, everybody should get over it. And beat the thing. And so, you know, maybe, that'll help your candidate pipeline,
Blake: Who knows maybe.
Max: And so I work with a number of people in the retail sector and they have this structure where they have also a regional sort of TA lead that goes from store to store and they do these sort of hiring events in the store or in a retail location. Then they move and every day is a different place and they have a schedule for like where they're going to go see 10 or 15 stores in the course of a month. In your regional team is that how it's set up where you have different centers within the region or it's one or two or more than that?
Blake: No, it just kind of depends on the area. I mean, I have one regional talent acquisition partner that supports our buildings here locally in the Portland, Oregon Metro area. And then I have another regional talent acquisition partner who's based out in Yakima, Washington, so central and Eastern Washington.
So they're, specifically geographically placed for a reason, you know, our monopoly myself, but our taps also. Uh, tried to leverage a virtual career fairs, um, uh, a vendor, which didn't get that much of a response. I know that's a big push the last, you know, four or five, six months, but, you know, we didn't get a large turnout.
I think quite frankly, a big part of that was geographics. I mean, we ran a lot of these, uh, virtual career fairs in pretty remote markets where we have operations. And so that's a huge, that's a whole other topic, max, trying to. Yeah. Trying to find people in remote geographic markets, it's supply and demand one Oh one.
And so that's a, a business problem. I try and solve literally every day.
Max: And for that sort localized sourcing and edges of the map. What's your tool kit on the sourcing side ? Are you still going to local job boards and I am even afraid to say this print.
Blake: It's really interesting that you bring that up Max as in some markets print still wins. I mean small remote local markets. It's really one way in which people find news or you know stuff like that and that is the local newspaper. So, print is not dead, ironically enough in some of our markets. But to really address your questions I mean It's tough I don't have a silver bullet. One thing we coach and teach and say at our company is that treat every, (especially in these remote locations) treat every applicant like a 10 carat diamond. But you have to roll out the carpets for these folks. But also we teach the art of pursuing them, you just can't reach out to them, leave a voicemail once and give up, you have to leave a voicemail, you have to email, you have to text, do whatever it takes to get in front of them. So, it's constantly pursuing folks leveraging technology, some kind of basic technology, it doesn't have to be revolutionary. for many of the folks that listen to your podcast.
Max: You said that you were working with an ATS which is industry specific, I have never heard of it Healthcare something ?
Blake: Yeah Healthcare Source is the name of it it. It’s primarily focused in the post acute space.
Max: So, I guess the name tells it all they are going to help you source for healthcare.
Blake: Yeah! They post our jobs to various job boards, but yes they do help source.
Max: To get back to the pandemic stuff the volume of applicants has dropped. Have other metrics like show rates and candidate dropouts, has this been affected? And somebody wants the job and they get scared and stay home where they decide that I don't want to be exposed to an environment where there are a lot of elderly citizens.
Blake: Yeah, we don't track those kind of data points Max you know that is something we are aware of, we have run into, we can't really lean back on data but we have seen a 20% decrease. But, something that we teach ever since this whole mess started is that you need to be as transparent as possible with the people, that way they know what they are getting into if they chose to go down this path.
Huge issue in late March early April was, “ohh! They are going to run out of PPE kits and it's going to be a huge thing, but honestly I was there in the office just yesterday. I have actually been going periodically over the last few months. Our office actually never closed which is funny. But we have this huge education room which is stocked full floor to ceiling of PPE. I am not concerned that we are going to run out of PPE, I have never been concerned. So you might think it's not a safe environment but all our folks are tested almost on the daily according to state regulations and I ensure that our buildings that are in states that they have really gone all in on safety. So you make the argument that these places are quite frankly safer than going into the grocery stores for instance.
Max: I guess there is still plenty of people who are looking at it rationally, but you did say that volume dropped so you think volume dropped because there was a 30%... I was wondering if you see some sectors of healthcare more effective than others in terms of candidate activity.
Blake: Yeah I don't know. I can't comment on what my colleagues in the acute settings are seeing. Well I know sitting on that client advisory board that some hospitals stats which is really a mirror of what we see in the skilled nursing and assisted living space. But there is a lot of school of thoughts as to why there is a drop in overall applicant here in the states for many months there was a 600$ a week kicker on unemployment on top of the unemployment, people were making a boat load of money by not working more than they were making while working as a nursing assistant at a skilled nursing facility or a caregiver. So, we ran into that quite a bit and that's a major reason why you have seen a sharp decrease and I think a lot of people are also scared to work in some of these locations, so trying to combat that false narrative has been challenging as well.
Max: Wow ! Well What doesn’t... (this is going to be a bad expression) what doesn't kill you makes you stronger and applying to talent acquisition which have new stressors now in the organization. We have to find new solutions as you come out of this crisis candidate volume goes, but probably your sourcing engines will never be the same and they will be optimized in the ways that you didn't know you could.
Blake: Absolutely, I believe that there is opportunity in chaos; it's the people that evolve and level up. I always kind of joke Max, if you can see massive success in cold sourcing and recruiting in skilled nursing or assisted living you can see success anywhere. As it is a challenging environment, but you know when we are pushed beyond our limits that’s where growth is, that's where we evolve as humans and professionals and I have to speak from my own practice and practice of my colleagues, we have to do different thing to scale and I am confident that we are riding this wave and becoming better.
Max: So we don't sound like Tech evangelists who have had too much tech kool aid and to kind of balance it out, with some areas where tech has fallen short of its promise. Do you have some examples in mind that don't have to be recent, I mean from previous years where you tried something out and wanted to automate it but had to step back and put the human back in the loop.
Blake: Good question, I can't really think of anything specific.
Max: We have a lot of customers for example when they heard that we do conversational AI and chatbots and apply it to sourcing, went to completely remove their phone recruitment teams and thought that, ok! Great, we would let the bots do it and instead of reducing it they went to completely removing it and that had very adverse results and we had to find a hybrid system to work.
Blake: I think Max, there are so many tech pieces out there that can help, but in the end of the day recruiting is a person talking, engaging, and hiring another person. It's human to human interaction and we need to use tech as a tool in our tool belt, but it cannot be the golden gun. You need to leverage technology and use it in your recruiting tool belt. As for Prestige we have integrated 2 pretty nice tech pieces into our practice, one is Texting out Applicant Tracking System which has helped us especially during covid and second is interview self scheduling. Our operators on the back end have been able to click a couple buttons and send messages to the candidates saying, hey select a date and time and then line up that interview and that has saved us so much time, and I guess those are few examples of not just fully relying on tech but utilizing tech as just one of the tools in your TA tool belt.
Max: Yeah, for sure. Those will move needles. It’s interesting you say that text especially. I think that especially now, it makes sense that any edge you can get you shall take but text would, I don't know we kind of imagined candidates stuck at home in front their computer are more available on email than ever but maybe there are out hiking or enjoying nature, you gotta go get them.
Blake: It's not a revolutionary piece of technology but at least in the skilled nursing and assisted living space there are not a lot of companies that are leveraging some on these pieces that we have been able to integrate here at Prestige Care.
Max: And just a couple of years ago, by the way most of the ATS did not have text, and interview scheduling, and synchronizing it with Outlook and Gmail. They have added it, there are also those point solutions that people can use, people can usually get from their ATS, if not they can plug in something quite easily so plenty of options there.
Blake we are just about out of time, thank you very much for sharing your story and I am sure some of our listeners will want to reach out to you, what's the best way to get hold of you ?
Blake: Great question Max, anybody can follow me on Instagram and Twitter my handle is @BlakeInthePNW , you can find me on Linkedin machine, Blake Thiess. Outside of that you can check us out on Youtube, Instagram, Facebook and Linkedin. I actually run all the social media here at Prestige as a part of TA and recruiting. It's a lot of fun being able to share employee stories and things like that. I try to put out as much content as I can. Time is limited these days.
I’ll say Thank you so much for the opportunity Max, I enjoyed our conversation today.
Max: I’ll go and check out your social media feed and thanks for joining us and telling us the story of Prestige, sorry, in these unprecedented times.... You can check on google how many times a word has been used and this one is having a great year.
Blake: Yeah, Thanks again.
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