All through the night

It’s the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the US, with its population growing by 60,000 every year. Las Vegas is also the real ’24/7′ city that never sleeps and, thanks to this combination of unrelenting growth and around-the-clock living, HR professionals find themselves juggling recruitment, retention and rapid innovation issues 24 hours a day.

The glitzy gaming industry still dominates the Las Vegas business landscape, with retail a major presence as well, but IT enterprises and bio-tech interests are beginning to move into the area.

“The big move in this country is to the west. It’s kind of the ‘promised land’ right now, and we’re right in the middle of it,” says Somer Hollingsworth, president and chief executive of the Las Vegas-based Nevada Development Authority. “Las Vegas is the centre of everything.”
But while rapid growth brings opportunity, it also creates headaches, from the lack of a workforce with specific new skills, to quick growth outpacing much-needed training.

In one sense, Las Vegas represents an employer’s dream market: 100 applications for one job is not unusual for senior positions. But few applicants may be qualified for the job on offer. At the other end of the spectrum, large casino operators, which may hire anything from 7,000 to 9,000 workers at a time to staff a new or expanding ‘property’, vie for entry-level workers with smaller, less glamourous businesses.

The transience of the workforce often makes benefits such as on-site childcare and help with obtaining US citizenship crucial to not only attracting but keeping good workers. While the area’s net population growth each year is high, untold numbers of residents also leave when the fabled desert paradise turns out to be less than that.

“A third to half of those who move in to town soon move out,” says Mary Beth Hartleb, president of the Southern Nevada HR Association (SNHRA). “So you may find your workers, but three months later they may be leaving town because they either don’t find what they were looking for in Las Vegas or they have other family commitments. People don’t necessarily stay here for a long time.”

Carol Hinkell, HR manager for Meadow Gold Dairy, which opened for business last autumn with 110 employees, says: “Some people really expect the streets to be paved with gold. But it’s a real town, like any other. I think people have a lot of unrealistic expectations. Still, compared with lots of other places, there’s tremendous opportunity here.”

That opportunity exists for both HR and the employees, according to Valerie Murzl, corporate vice-president of HR and training for Station Casinos, a 13-property gaming company that caters primarily to Las Vegas’s local residents and has 11,000 employees.

“I always say, we get paid to think about the great things that Station Casinos can offer team members to improve their lives,” says Murzl. “Our culture is about helping their lives. That’s why I love my job.”

In January, Station Casinos was the first gaming company ever to be named in Fortune Magazine’s ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ list.
Murzl is generally recognised as the primary driver behind making 24/7 childcare available in Las Vegas. Soon after she moved there in the late 1990s, Murzl found herself pregnant with her third child, and learned to her dismay that 6pm was the latest that childcare operations in the area stayed open. The wait for spaces at even those facilities was as long as a year. “I thought, this is a 24/7 industry. How do people who work in a 24/7 industry take care of their kids if everything closes at six?”

Murzl suggested that Station Casinos adopt some kind of childcare arrangement, and as a result, she was tasked with finding out if it was a viable option for the company.

Today, Children’s Choice Learning Centers operate around-the-clock childcare facilities at Station Casinos properties and at the MGM Grand Mirage casino. Other Las Vegas businesses also contract with the childcare provider.

Every day, Children’s Choice cares for about 1,500 children, aged six weeks to 12 years old, daily in its Las Vegas centres. Seventy-five per cent of its ‘teachers’ have four-year university degrees. All must undergo 24 hours of continuing training a year, plus pre-hire and random drug testing and extensive background checks, according to chief operating officer, Donna McClintock.

“Our biggest HR challenge has been finding people who are just as committed to the quality as we are and committed to the training,” McClintock says.

However, placing a child with carers at non-traditional hours might seem an unattractive prospect to some parents.

“What we’re finding is that parents who work non-traditional hours usually have very stressed children unless they have tremendous family support. If not, they’re always looking for another place to put their child, and the child is wondering, ‘Where am I going to sleep tonight?’,” says McClintock.

“We’ve found that instead of it being a negative that children sleep at our facility away from home two or three nights a week, it’s really a positive [experience] based on what they have been doing while their parents work.”

Overcrowding in the local schools has added another dimension to the child care issue. Different schedules have been imposed to make the best use of school buildings, which means school holidays occur at different times in the year for different groups of students.

For working parents and their employers, that equates to a logistical nightmare. “We deal with six different [schedules],” says John Hill, employment manager for the local water authority Las Vegas Valley Water District.

Named by the SNHRA as one of ‘Southern Nevada’s Best Places to Work’, the water authority has 1,200 full-time employees and 300 part-time or temporary workers. It has its own on-site childcare facilities, provided by service company Bright Horizons, and an activity facility for children aged from five to 12 years. It also contracts with other providers off-site.

“Childcare is such a unique thing,” says Hill. “There’s not one type of childcare that fits everybody’s needs. There has to be a whole variety of different types of childcare out there.”

Another major issue for employers is employment law training, reports Patrick Hicks, managing partner in law firm Littler Henderson’s Las Vegas office. Rapid growth is leading to rapid promotions, leaving new supervisors and managers with little or no training.

Courts are determining that employers who do not give their managers and supervisors such training are acting with ‘reckless indifference’. “So even if an employer has a great policy, if managers and supervisors aren’t getting the hands-on training, and they say or do something inappropriate, it’s all for nothing. We’re seeing very large awards and settlements as a result of that,” says Hicks.

For HR professionals who choose to join the crush and move to Las Vegas, Hicks offers this advice: “You’ve got to be cognisant of the fact that business doesn’t start at 9am and stop at 5pm. There have got to be managers, supervisors and an HR professional available at all hours.”

Las Vegas is just different. But many have found that getting off work at four in the morning, and heading straight to the gym or the American softball league as the sun is rising can become a rather attractive way of life.

Clark County School District: Personal approach to recruitment

When it comes to hiring new teachers, officials at the Clark County School District are cheerfully ruthless about invoking a national ‘misery index’ to spot potentially hot hunting grounds for new recruits.

Perhaps upstate New York is experiencing a bitterly cold winter. Or a school district in Georgia may have had to make a number of teachers redundant. Hopefully, those areas’ losses will be the Clark County schools’ gain as contemporary and old-fashioned tools are used to recruit, and ultimately retain, hundreds of teachers for virtually every subject matter.

In the current booming climate, the school district serving the greater Las Vegas metropolitan area gets 12,000 new students every year. For the 2004-2005 school year, 1,300 new teachers were hired. And for the 2005-2006 school year, at least 1,300 more will be needed.

Overseeing the mammoth task of recruitment and retention is George Ann Rice, associate superintendent of the Clark County School District’s HR division.

Recruitment has a definitively high-tech flavour, but with a personal touch. The district advertises on numerous websites across the US. Once a potential candidate visits the district’s own website, software programs track online enquiries about job openings. Once an online application has been requested and received, the software then tracks how an applicant is progressing with the form and encourages them to complete it if the file is closed without being completed. The district can also focus on specific geographic areas where multiple applications are coming from to pinpoint potential hot spots.

Once an applicant from outside the area is offered a job, one of the district’s carefully selected ‘business partners’ from the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce will telephone the newly-appointed teacher and offer to answer any questions about life in the Las Vegas area.

At the same time, the district sends the new recruit a password to its partnership website, so that the spouse or older children can log on to look for jobs and submit their CVs to local businesses.

“The businesses will put their [CVs] on top because they’re connected with a teacher coming in,” says Rice.

The personalised touch continues once a new teacher has arrived at the new job. A ‘community day’ held before the first day of work is intended to help newcomers feel at home through introductions to fellow teachers from the same home state and teaching fields, and by matching up the newcomers with their favourite leisure activities.

With help from partner universities, the school district is also investing in ‘grow your own’ teacher training programmes. Those targeted for such programmes include adults who either have already earned a bachelor’s degree and simply need to earn teaching credentials or those who may be short of relatively few credits to earn their degree. For instance, each year up to 30 district support staff are chosen to spend their work week completing teacher education programmes through the University of Nevada-Las Vegas while still receiving full pay and benefits.

“We have to be creative and hard-working to get the job done,” Rice says. “But we understand our mission, and our mission is to find the best-quality people we can so these kids have the chance of choosing what occupation they want to go in to. So we are driven to find them the best teachers we can find.”

Fast facts: Clark County School District 2004-2005 school year

Students: 280,834

Employees: 32,161

Schools: 301

Employer status: Second largest in Nevada

New schools: Opened 13 new schools in August 2004, set to open 11 new schools in August 2005

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