I Need Help!

November 1, 2022 6:04 PM
  • Dennis Conrad
November 1, 2022 6:04 PM
  • Dennis Conrad

I don’t need to tell any of you how hard it has been over the last several years to find and keep enough good staff in most industries. You’ve all seen and felt it in your daily routines. Certainly, the gaming industry is no exception. Finding enough staff in today’s labor market is the single biggest thing that my still-active casino-executive friends complain about and from what they tell me, I can’t blame them.

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Well, I think it’s time to take the casino-hiring crisis bull by the horns and start a crusade to solve what I believe is the largest threat currently facing the casino industry: finding enough people.

While I don’t claim to be an HR guru, over my nearly 50-year career as a casino executive, corporate VP, and industry consultant, I’ve observed (and sometimes been a part of) organizational efforts designed to hire for the numerous and varied positions that make up the modern-day casino-resort. That was a tough task long before COVID (and other factors) made it even tougher.

I thought the best way I could contribute to this “staffing crusade” is by culling through all the tactics I’ve seen casinos use over the years to find employees, especially under challenging circumstances. Some tactics certainly seemed to work better than others, but I share them all with you, because there may be at least a little value in all of them. The more options the better and perhaps you can unlock some of that value as part of your own staffing crusade.

So here is a laundry list of what casinos have done over the years to find and keep employees. Following that is a list of out-of-the-box tactics that, at least according to my knowledge, have never been tried by casinos. They may make you throw your hands up in disbelief or think that I’m more than a little crazy. But hopefully, they’ll have in them a kernel of a good idea or at least make you smile.

Casino employee-recruitment tactics over the years

  • Job fairs — Always a staple of HR, this tactic has declined in effectiveness over the years, as more casinos and more industries have used it over time and the available candidate pool has shrunk. They garner better results if your casino is truly an “employer of choice,” utilizes personable and HAPPY employees to work the fairs, chooses a good job-fair target audience, place, and time, and markets the fair (and your casino!) in an honest way, highlighting the jobs available and the benefits of having them, from the prospective-employee’s perspective.
  • Media ads — Another staple of the HR departments, this tactic can have value if the ads target the right pool of job candidates with honest, interesting copy that drives views and measurable results. Online has become an increasingly important, scientific, and cost-effective tool in recruitment advertising, especially in trade publications that target potential casino or hospitality workers.
  • Current-employee-referral program — This has been a growing tactic, whereby current employees can refer their friends and acquaintances for open jobs and receive a cash bonus if those friends are hired and stay for some minimum amount of time. It’s good if your employees like working for you, but bad if you’re low on the list of best places to work in your casino market.
  • Foreign student programs — I saw this work effectively at a tribal casino in the Northeast. Essentially, foreign students (this casino targeted Eastern Europe) could get a one-year visa, under a U.S government regulation, to work in the U.S. A big benefit is that these students are there to work (as well as learn) and will work hours and shifts that “normal employees” never would, both for the money and the exposure, plus potentially getting a foot in the door to immigrate to America.
  • New-employee hiring bonuses — This program has grown dramatically with the pandemic. Essentially, you buy your new employees with a hiring bribe. Employment costs go up, but some hiring gaps can be addressed. Again, this works best if you’re an employer of choice and new employees commit to that employment for a period of time to receive the bonus.
  • Retiree hiring programs — Retirees make an excellent talent pool. They’re experienced, mature, and usually have a good work ethic. Many are also bored out of their minds, have time on their hands, and could use the extra money. Years ago, I saw a particularly effective, branded, retiree-hiring program called Weekend Warriors, which created a “hero image” in the minds of these seniors and targeted the weekends, when casinos have the great majority of their business and can really use the help.
  • Loosening HR hiring rules — Casinos are certainly highly regulated and I believe this has led some of them to tie their own hands and miss good employees they might hire. Sometimes spouses and family members are prohibited from working at the same casino or on the same shift. Further rules and policies can prohibit hiring ex-cons, past employees, young people, non-tribal members, and others. Once I heard Arte Nathan, the past HR guru at Mirage Resorts, speak about how he found surprisingly good results by hiring bikers and ex-gang members. So where are you unnecessarily limiting your own talent pool?
  • Cross-training internally — While not technically a hiring program, aggressive cross-training internally across a wide range of casino departments and jobs can have the same benefits to your organization. A players club rep who is trained as a dealer or slot attendant can help main revenue departments have enough staff at busy times, plus provide a better career opportunity for that cross-trainee.
  • Executive-development programs — While a grooming device for high potential employees or fresh MBA graduates, most casino executive-development programs also usually have a component where the program invitees spend some period of time working in several various frontline casino positions before they can move on to their eventual management position. This is not only a great way to learn how the organization really works, but also to provide a few extra hands on deck.
  • Job recruitment by department heads and their surrogates — My experience over the decades has shown that many department heads are quick to complain about Human Resources “not finding me enough quality job applicants,” but slow to get involved finding those quality applicants themselves. I believe that all department heads (and other managers) should have a business card that says on the back, “I Noticed You Delivering Great Customer Service,” then handing it out to the employees in all the situations where they got that great service, along with a verbal message, “If you’re ever interested in coming to work for me …”

There are some other stock tactics to find new employees for casino companies. Those and the ones I just mentioned are likely already being utilized (though maybe somewhat ineffectively in some cases). Still the employee hiring crisis only worsens. What’s a casino executive to do? So, as promised, I give you Dennis’ Out-Of-The-Box Ideas To Help You Find More Employees. (I give you the ideas, but you figure out how to use them. And no guarantees!)

  1. Sign elementary school and early high school students to future job contracts— Hey, colleges do this with young athletes. Why can’t casinos do it with young students and offer future jobs (summer or otherwise) when they can legally work in the casino? I’ll bet there’d be a lot of interest in lifeguard, valet parking, waiter, bartender, and drink-server positions.
  2. Immigrants — No, I’m not going to wade into any immigration debates, but I will suggest that tens of thousands of new Ukrainian, Afghan, and other immigrants are already in this country and looking for meaningful work. Why not in a casino?
  3. Stealing from other casinos and other hospitality industries — Sure, a little of this already goes on, but it’s sort of like no one wants to steal employees from competitors for fear that they’ll do the same. BS, I say! Things are dire and competitors are sitting ducks. I’d start with a standing offer of a 25% pay premium for employees of competitors who have won an Employee of the Month Award.
  4. Employees starving in other industries — Many apprenticeships in a number of industries require an extended period of training, practice, or business-building time for little or no pay. Real estate salespeople. Hairdressers. Masseuses. These jobs all have ramp-up times until enough skills or enough customers are gathered. In the meantime, help these people avoid starving by taking a part-time job at your casino.
  5. Laid-off employees in other industries — You read about it all the time: “5,000 employees laid off at XYZ Company.” Well, why don’t you reach out to those people to help with your hiring crisis?
  6. Your past fired employees —I know how this must sound to you. But I’m betting that on this “pushed-out-the-door list” are some gems, or at least some potentially solid employees. Maybe they were unfairly fired; maybe they’re willing to earn their way back. I don’t know, but where there are people, there are potential employees, especially among past employees.
  7. Morning temp workers gathered at the gate — Construction companies often have a process for hiring a number of temp workers for that particular day. They show up and if there’s work, they work. I know casinos have all sorts of licensing requirements, but geez, couldn’t you have daily temp pot washers?
  8. Inmates — I just read that many inmates from minimum-security prisons are being actively and successfully used to fight wildfires. Some employ job-placement specialists, have work-release programs, and hire out from halfway houses. Can such employees, often desperate to find work, help put out your staffing fires?

Well, those are some of my thoughts and ideas for helping to solve your hiring crisis. I must also tell you that the best strategy is to retain your existing team members, recognizing their heroic efforts to serve your customers every day, making their jobs easier and more fulfilling, and ensuring they never want to leave you. You’ll discover you need a whole lot less new employees and your “hiring crisis” may just fade into the COVID sunset.

Earlier posts by Dennis: