Interview with Jason Leonard (JCPenney) – Part 2

Jason Leonard
Director of Field and
College Recruiting

JCPenney

“At the end of the day there’s no technology that’s going to eliminate the recruiter role. It’s kind of funny…every time the next big thing comes along, everyone says ’aw, recruiters are going to be obsolete.’ I really don’t think that will happen. Good communication skills, a strong work ethic and a desire to be successful are always going to enable the best recruiters to continue to exceed expectations. The tools just help them do it a little bit more easily.”
continued from Part 1
Jason, what challenges do you face in recruiting and what kind of keeps you awake at night?

I think we’ve touched on one of the challenges, which is how do you always stay abreast of current technology that’s going to be cutting edge and give you a competitive advantage. It’s interesting… if you were using the major job boards in 1998, you had a competitive advantage because most organizations weren’t using them yet. When it spread to mass market, you had to be on them just to be status quo; but there was minimal competitive advantage. You still had to do it because, if you weren’t, you were behind the curve. So, people are always looking for what’s going to be mainstream a year from now…I want to start using that today, because that’s going to give me the competitive advantage. It’s a constant struggle that will never end because it’s always changing.

Another challenge that I’ve read a lot about lately is the transferability of skill set. I read an interesting article in Business Week where they were saying that, even though unemployment is approaching double-digits across the U.S., there are still over 3 million open jobs that companies can’t fill. And they were extrapolating the reason as the average American isn’t willing or able to learn a new skill set. They don’t want to move to a different industry, a different skill, or they can’t geographically relocate because of the housing market. They can’t sell their home in Detroit and move to a place that has a lot of open jobs. And I just use that as an example. So, it’s interesting when you think about it- people are either unwilling, unable, or incapable of learning a new skill set, which is perpetuating the shortages in the health care industry, education, government….so that’s an interesting dichotomy. We have nearly double-digit unemployment, but we have over 3 million jobs that companies can’t fill because there’s no candidate match.

It begs the question of how you increase the candidate pool, instead of stealing from one another’s very finite pool of currently skilled labor. Then, you start to move beyond just recruiting and you’re getting into training, development, true talent management, instead of just talent acquisition.

Yes, do we recruit them or do we grow them?
You’re exactly right. And, of course, the quandary that you end up with is whether it is worth the risk to train them and someone else steal them from us?
It does happen.
Yes, it does. Before Penney’s, I spent 3.5 years with Citigroup as Director of Recruiting and that was an interesting problem that Citigroup had when I first started there in 2005. Citigroup, at the time, was known for having really good talent and they had a great training program. They grew a lot of it in-house, but other financial services companies would come in and pluck them out within 6 to 12 months of them going through that training because they knew Citigroup was a great training ground. Citi’s challenge went from “gosh, how do we grow it?” to “gosh, how do we grow it and keep it?” It’s interesting because everyone is trying to meet their business needs and frequently that means strategies like that, so I would say those are the things that keep me up at night.
Wonderful insights Jason, thank you. In conclusion, I would like to ask, as a member of DirectEmployers Association, do you have a favorite Member benefit?

One of the things I find most compelling about DirectEmployers is the fact that it’s only employers. It seems too obvious to say, but it really is unique because you don’t have to worry about being influenced by vendors, someone who’s trying to sell you something or who has an agenda. It’s wonderful to have a community where you’re literally talking to peers within other organizations, many of whom are either facing the same problems or faced them before. It becomes reciprocal. You can say, this is the challenge we have, would you help me? Absolutely. This is one we have. Will you help me? Oh yeah, we did that last year. It is unbiased relevant input, and it’s great for networking.

The other product that stands out is the job syndication through DirectEmployers and JobCentral. Again, the purity is what gives it such value and makes it so relevant and impactful. If you go to some of the major job boards- I won’t name any names- you get a lot of job postings, but you get a lot of trash. You get a lot of a spam, marketing, sales stuff, people who really aren’t out there putting true open positions in the purest sense of the word.

In summary, the three biggest values of our membership are the type of dialog that occurs, the networking that you can facilitate through the organization because they’re people just like you, and then the pure resources and tools at hand.

Jason, I really appreciate your time. Thank you.

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