Holiday season magnifies the challenges of onboarding new employees. Businesses face increased pressure from an influx of customers, enormous volumes of orders or deliveries, or simply juggling regular workloads when many regular employees are away. Getting seasonal hires up to speed, fast, can help. Doug Stephen, senior vice president of the learning division at CGS, in New Brunswick, Canada, shared some best practices for creating what he called “guerrilla-style learning”—cost-effective, mobile-friendly eLearning.
Minimize, then contain, training
The best thing a company can do, according to Stephen, is no training—by rehiring from previous years. “If you can retain even a small amount of those that have been successful the year before, you’re going to maintain or increase customer service, the cost is going to be less, and you’re going to have more stability in the workforce.”
Of course, it’s unlikely that a company can retain a full complement of seasonal hires from year to year. Conceding the necessity of training some new hires, Stephen emphasizes the key to efficient training of people who will be around for only a couple of months: planning. “It’s best to contain the training,” he said. “And once you contain the training, to simplify it.” Planning allows a company—of any size—to prioritize and train only essential skills.
Turn top-performing employees into video stars
Stephen’s solution enlists valued permanent employees—and everyone benefits. “Take a look at your top regular performers that are doing what the seasonal people will be doing. Find out from them what are the ‘gotchas’ in the work that need to be addressed. Because you can’t teach seasonal employees everything,” he said.
Once crucial skills and topics are identified, those top performers “teach” the new hires—informally. “We decide what is important before we do this kind of ‘guerrilla-type learning,’” Stephen said. “We use mobile devices, and we create little tiny vignettes, under two minutes. We can either have [the selected employees] do a selfie and explain, or they can have a manager film them while they’re talking about it.”
The resulting short videos become tips and training for new seasonal hires—“the mechanisms and the methods to find out what they need to know to be able to do the job best.” As an example, Stephen described working with a home goods store, a chain with about $800 million in annual sales. Employees recorded vignettes on topics like how to properly fold a small rug for a floor display, after-hours procedures for ensuring that the stores were pristine and organized for opening, and the correct way to process customer returns.
“We take our best person or best people to explain the key to being successful,” Stephen said. “We take that information and post it on a YouTube channel.” The vignettes, tagged and categorized, are available on YouTube where new hires can search by scenario, task, and job role.
“There is still that human interaction, but we extend it out into the digital space so that people can learn it,” Stephen said. This solution “proves to be very cost-effective, and you can move very quickly as well. You don’t have to be able to set up plans to put it into the LMS and SCORM it. You just create a YouTube channel and put it up there. And it’s really effective.”
It’s a low-cost solution that any company can implement easily. “This can be a poor man’s option or a rich man’s option that can get the same results,” Stephen said.
It’s also scalable. “Name me a small company that doesn’t have an iPhone,” Stephen said. Any company can do this; the key is planning. “The issue is, even small companies need to take the time to prepare” and focus only on the most essential tasks and skills. And keep it short. “If it’s more than two minutes, we lose them.”
Engaging top-performing permanent employees has an additional bonus: “People love that. People want to be recognized as someone who is valuable to the organization. What better way to do that than to go home to your family and say, ‘The manager asked me to help the new people. And oh, by the way, let’s go to YouTube and take a look at what I’m doing,’” Stephen said. “You’re bringing in valued regular employees and really giving them kudos and something to be proud of; they’ve been selected to impart their skills to others. It’s very empowering within an organization.”
Employees or contractors?
Some seasonal or temporary hires are employees; others may be freelancers or contractors. The difference is legally significant; when providing training, employers must be careful not to treat contractors or freelancers like employees. In some locales, requiring or even providing comprehensive training, or requiring employees to perform specific tasks in defined ways, can cross that line.
For this reason, Stephen advises posting the videos to a public YouTube channel. “We can create a private area and we can provide user names and passwords to contractors if we wish,” he said. But “if you want to make it public, the advantage to that is it could help you if you bring in a person as a contractor.”
With a public YouTube channel, the vignettes become “tips that anyone in the world can view,” and contractors can access them using their own devices, on their own time. That can help establish that those individuals are not employees.
Look at new sources of seasonal workers
Cast a wide net when looking for those seasonal hires, Stephen advises. “We all have a tendency to look to students, to try to bring them in. Expand it, and look at some fantastic people who might be retirees who would also be interested—and you might have more stability there as well,” Stephen said, since more of the retirees might return year after year. “There’s a pool [of people] that are willing and just as able to do that type of seasonal work.”
Or consider staffing through an agency: A staffing agency can take on some of the training burden, screening temporary hires for needed skills and providing needed eLearning and training. “I have found that a staffing agency can be very effective in terms of pre-screening the candidates, administering safety training and assessment tests, etc.,” said Melanie Kim, a staffing consultant at AppleOne in California. Some agencies handle payroll as well. “There is, of course, a higher cost associated with temporary services versus finding the employees on their own. However, many companies find the time they save on qualifying and onboarding candidates is worth the additional cost,” Kim said.
Remember: It’s a two-way street
Posting short tips or training to YouTube works for all hires: seasonal employees or contractors; students or retirees. “Everyone goes to YouTube, believe it or not,” Stephen said. “If not, you can show them. The younger people just go there first. The others might say, ‘Where’s the booklet?’ But once you show them, and they see a real example instead of reading it, everybody embraces it. It’s a video world now; it’s all video.”And once they’re on board, keep new seasonal hires engaged: Ask for feedback and show appreciation. If the new hires feel welcomed and as if they are a part of a bigger effort, they’ll engage more with both the training and the work. Once the season ends, Stephen advises investing a small amount of effort to stay connected using a Facebook page or other social media. When the next hiring season rolls around, reach out to previous hires and consider using incentives to get top performers to come back, Stephen suggests. That will take you full circle, back to his first suggestion: Minimize and contain training!