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In a booming economy with the lowest unemployment figures in years, businesses of all sizes must devise innovative ways to attract and retain the best and brightest employees

Bill Mays listened carefully as the troubled young man in his office revealed what seemed like an insurmountable problem. “He said he’d screwed up on some credit cards [and had] run up a $15,000 debt,” says Mays, president of Mays Chemical Co., an industrial chemical and raw material distribution firm in Indianapolis. “Well, if you’re 26, that sounds like a lot of money. But in reality, I know that bankruptcy would not be worth the agony. So I set him up with one of our investment counselors to negotiate with these credit card folks with the idea that the company would step up and write a check. We negotiated to about 65 cents on the dollar, then we paid that off.”

“Now there’s nothing to say that [the employee] can’t leave,” adds Mays, whose $100 million firm is consistently ranked among the top 20 BE Industrial/Service 100 list companies. “There’s nothing to say that he will ever pay us back. But my experience has been that I’ve never lost a dollar. And the kind of loyalty that is engendered by that kind of action is just unbelievable.”

In a booming economy, with the lowest unemployment rate in two decades-currently holding at 4% compared to 7% in 1980-business owners are searching for ways to build this type of loyalty. And because it’s often difficult to find good employees in the first place, employers have no choice but to offer creative enticements to woo the best job candidates.

In a 1999 study by Management Recruiters International Inc. (MRI), a worldwide recruitment organization based in Cleveland, nearly every major U.S. industry reported a critical need for executives, mid-to upper-level managers and sales professionals. Further, a 1999 American Management Association (AMA) survey of human resources managers reveals that turnover is especially high among employees younger than 30, minorities, recent hires and female managers. Another contributing factor is the lack of large numbers of trained experts, such as Information Technology (IT) specialists, to service the new and constantly expanding e-commerce industry. Besides, online job-seekers now have access to marketplace information such as companies’ pay scales and standard industry rates. Not surprisingly, competition for skilled workers is fierce.

In this article, we’ll help you develop strategies to lure the best and brightest job candidates in this new and booming economy.

MONEY ISN’T EVERYTHING
What employees want more than anything, according to recruitment experts, is to know that their contributions are valued. They also want meaningful work that offers flextime, sabbaticals and paid time for volunteering. In other words, work that still allows them to enjoy life.

“Companies realize that they’re competing for the No. 1 asset: top-quality people,” says Roger Branch, vice president at MRI. “So they’re doing things to help people achieve balance in their lives. Now companies are having to look at what employees want and need, not just what customers want.”

One size doesn’t fit all, however. Some workers expect cutting-edge training, not only in new job tasks, but also in life management skills such as financial planning and stress

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