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Employment

Employers Should Look at Each Candidate as an Individual

By Kelly Moulton and Mia McDonald

 

In the midst of the Great Resignation, employers are desperate to hire new staff. Insider Intelligence reports that in 2022, approximately 20.2% of the U.S. population will be made up of Generation Z, meaning employers will increasingly need to turn to this group to fill roles.

Born between the years of 1997 and 2012 and sometimes called ‘screenagers’ for their attachment to mobile devices and upbringing in a digital environment, the strengths and weaknesses of Gen Z, as well as what they have to offer to the workforce, differ significantly from previous generations in some ways, but mirror their predecessors in other ways.

Kelly Moulton

Kelly Moulton

Mia McDonald

Mia McDonald

Edward Segal, in his Forbes article, “How and Why Managing Gen Z Employees Can Be Challenging for Companies,” discussed the challenges Gen Z applicants present to employers. Among those, noted several executives, are a lack of discipline and patience as well as the need to develop a work ethic.

Gen Z is not unique in facing broad generational criticisms. Baby Boomers and Millennials can relate to the struggle of being defined by their generation. But just like prior generations, Generation Z is diverse in its composition, motivations, and beliefs. Working to understand each of these components can help generate success for both employers and Gen Z employees, while increasing Gen Z commitment to the employer.

Raised in different decades and growing up utilizing different technologies, it can be a challenge to integrate intergenerational individuals employed in the same workplace. But with the influx of young workers entering the market, employers need to continue to learn and adapt so they can obtain and retain the best applicants, just as they require their new hires to adapt, learn, and grow within their roles.

A great way to help acclimate new hires to the community and culture of the workplace is to integrate them into a working team of established professionals who can help ease their introduction. This is a strategy we both experienced when we started at Meyers Brothers Kalicka.

MBK created a space where both of us could work directly and collaboratively with a team of other young professionals, allowing us to quickly meet and bond with co-workers in various specialties. This made for a welcoming, and less intimidating, entrance into the firm and the demands of public accounting in particular. This strategy also provides a broad base of different people to go to with questions, improves motivation and accountability, and fosters a teamwork-driven environment.

“Gen Z is not unique in facing broad generational criticisms. Baby Boomers and Millennials can relate to the struggle of being defined by their generation. But just like prior generations, Generation Z is diverse in its composition, motivations, and beliefs.”

Another important consideration is that many Gen Z workers entering the employment market have just completed school during a global pandemic. This has fostered adaptability to different styles of working and learning, as many recent graduates were required to manage their own time and resources with remote education. Employers should try to mirror this and offer similarly flexible work hours and locations.

Companies need to ask themselves, are we truly devoted to our employees maintaining work-life balance? Taking this non-traditional approach can, in turn, allow employees to pursue other interests and certifications. Generation Z is very aware of the importance of mental healthcare, often seeking out employers that understand and support a balance between their work and personal pursuits, from time with friends and famil to higher education or community events. Allowing more flexibility for staff ultimately makes for a happier work environment and more productive, connected employees.

Employers can successfully integrate and take advantage of the strengths of Gen Z new hires if they take a multi-faceted and individualized approach. This can be encompassed with the collaborative work environment, as well as flexible work hours and locations arranged to accommodate the needs of each individual. Employers need to allow for independence — showing that they trust and value contributions — while also setting clear expectations and providing consistent feedback to foster growth. This will create a sense of empowerment, which will be a vital trait for these future leaders.

For this more hybrid, flexible strategy to work effectively, communication is essential. Whether it be a quick phone call, email updates, or regular in-person check-ins, setting standards for communication will help to keep everyone on the same page.

It is important to understand that there is no cookie-cutter approach that will work in all cases, and employers should not try to generalize a strategy for all young applicants. Perhaps the most important thing employers can do is set aside preconceived notions about the generation, and instead look at each candidate as an individual. They should consider the ways in which each individual learns best, as well as the specific projects assigned. What is the overarching goal of the project, and what is the key takeaway that can be taught? Where can we allow for flexibility to best accommodate their needs and set them up for success?

For Gen Z applicants, it is important to remember that what is valued most by employers is a positive attitude and a willingness to learn. Beyond this, new hires and even current employees should always look for ways they can pull down tasks from higher-ups; offering time to check in and help on any available tasks will show initiative and generate more respect. Employ your strengths in digital communication and technology, but be open-minded and use your first few years to further diversify and learn as much as you can from those around you. Immerse yourself in your environment and seek out opportunities to bond with your co-workers and make connections. Networking not just outside of your company but within it as well will help hires work well with a variety of people and grow invaluable interpersonal skills that cannot be taught in a textbook.

With compromises in attitude and an appreciation for change and development from everyone in a workplace, employers will be able to reap the benefits of the upcoming generation of workers and future leaders.

 

Kelly Moulton and Mia McDonald are associates at the Holyoke-based accounting firm Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.

Employment Special Coverage

Employers Are Still Laboring

Meredith Wise, president of the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast (EANE), has worked in the broad realm of human resources for decades. She’s seen a lot when it comes to different kinds of employment-market conditions, but admits that she hasn’t seen anything quite like this.

“This is an anomaly; employers have not been in a position where they’re not in control of the job market for a long, long time,” she said. “It’s been a long time since employees have had this kind of control.”

And it looks like they will maintain control for the foreseeable future, said Wise and others we spoke with, because the forces of supply and demand are certainly in their favor — as they have been since well beyond the pandemic, but now, even more so.

Indeed, the national unemployment rate in May remained at 3.6% for the third month in a row, just slightly above the mark in February 2020 (3.5%), prior to the pandemic — this despite a general cooling of the economy amid soaring inflation, supply-chain issues, the war in Ukraine, and other factors.

These numbers translate into a smaller pool of available, qualified labor, continued headaches for employers, and, as Wise said, control of the front seat in the hands of employees.

“Demand and supply still do not align where we would like them to, and more importantly, they’re not aligned where most industries and employers thought they would be at this point post-pandemic, whatever post-pandemic actually means,” said David Cruise, president and CEO of MassHire Springfield Career Center. “I think the pandemic is still very much a driving factor in decision making on the part of applicants, as well as, to some degree, on the part of the employer.”

Elaborating, he told BusinessWest that employers are struggling on several fronts; they’re not seeing large numbers of applicants for positions to be filled, they’re not seeing enough qualified applicants, and when they do find people they want to hire, they’re struggling to retain them because other job opportunities with better pay and benefits continue to present themselves.

Meredith Wise

Meredith Wise

“This is an anomaly; employers have not been in a position where they’re not in control of the job market for a long, long time. It’s been a long time since employees have had this kind of control.”

As a result, companies are spending far more than would be considered normal to recruit, hire, and onboard help, said Cruise, noting that, as retention rates continue to fall, employers are expending more time, money, and energy — all precious commodities, especially with small businesses — on the hiring process.

In other words, the Great Resignation isn’t over, although, as the economy falters, there are questions about how long it will last.

“We’re continuing to see a lot of people quitting their jobs and starting new ones,” said Chris Geehern, executive vice president of Public Affairs & Communication for Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM). “My sense is that, as the economy weakens and job growth slows down, that phenomena will also slow down because employees now think, ‘I can quit this job and go to six different places.’ But if there are only two job openings opposed to the six, employees think twice about leaving.”

After federal benefits ran out in September 2020, most employers thought there would be an onslaught of job seekers rushing to fill positions. But when people weren’t flooding career centers for help, employers decided they needed to revamp their systems.

There is an emphasis on ‘the next job,’ so employers needed to find new ways to attract workers, meaning their marketing strategies needed to change, said Dave Gadaire, president and CEO of MassHire Holyoke Career Center, adding that companies are “getting more aggressive in how they recruit; they’re taking more advantage of not just social media, but the airwaves and newspapers.”

Employers are also attending more job fairs, both virtually and in person. In the past month, MassHire has held job fairs in Holyoke and Springfield. Each of those fairs brought in more than 200 job seekers and more than 50 businesses, but the demand still far exceeds supply.

David Cruise

As retention rates continue to fall, David Cruise says, employers are spending more money on the hiring process, from recruiting to onboarding.

For this issue and its focus on employment, BusinessWest looks at the issues shaping the current job market, the outlook at least for the short term, and whether employers may gain back control of the market any time soon.

 

Work in Progress?

Those we spoke with said the current challenges are not restricted to certain sectors of the economy; it’s essentially across the board, with some industry groups, especially essential service sectors, particularly hard-hit. National hire rates have stayed the same at 4.4% over the past year despite more people looking for work, and despite news of layoffs in some sectors, especially financial services.

“Demand and supply still do not align where we would like them to, and more importantly, they’re not aligned where most industries and employers thought they would be at this point post-pandemic, whatever post-pandemic actually means.”

“You do see companies both hiring and laying off at the same time,” said Gadaire. “It’s confusing for people because employers need different skills, and they have the choice to train their employees up or let them go and get new employees with those skills instead. The cost of training subtracts from the bottom line. They could be great employees and the employer wants to keep them, but now they have to get paid more and get the training they need to be qualified.”

Instead of layoffs, companies are trying to slow down the hiring process, he continued. “Instead of layoffs, we’re seeing some of the companies delaying their hiring a little bit; instead of hiring 50 people, they’re hiring 40 people, that kind of thing.”

For those are hiring — and that’s most companies — it’s not business as usual, or what managers were used to before the pandemic and that aforementioned Great Recession.

Indeed, bonuses and higher wages are now the norm for businesses looking to attract — and retain — help. Companies are offering sign-on bonuses, some as hefty as $2,000, when applying and staying at a business for six months or more. That means that companies are having to rework their pay scales from the inside to retain workers.

Beyond higher wages and bonuses, companies are offering other incentives, including flexible hours and, when possible, remote work.

Wise told BusinessWest that one of EANE’s manufacturing members in the central part of the state uses flex time on its shop floor, meaning employees can have a more fluid work schedule to match their personal schedule.

But perhaps what job applicants are seeking most is culture, Cruise noted.

“Over time, the money is certainly an incentive, but it won’t be able to retain people over time without some adjustment with culture and schedules,” he explained, adding that, perhaps above all else, job seekers want to know they’re valued and heard by their employer.

“Most progressive, good companies where people want to work and build a career are working really hard to not only outreach employees and market their business, but make the case to workers that their place of business is a good place to work, not only for the financial and benefit packages, but from the perspective of having a work culture and schedules that work with the employees’ life cycle,” he went on. “Companies are trying to look at schedules that allow flexibility with an understanding that business still has to operate and has to have accommodations to make sure the work gets done.”

Gadaire agreed. He told BusinessWest about an employee who continues to work for the MassHire center because of the care she feels from her co-workers and bosses.

“She and her son got COVID early on in the pandemic, and she had to quarantine in a hotel because her mother and grandmother were living with her at the time,” he noted. “We had staff members bringing food to her, checking in, picking up medications for her every day. She said that was a difference maker for her because the amount of care meant something. She felt like her son’s health mattered to us, and she said, ‘I’ve never felt that from other jobs.’”

Good management is another key, said those we spoke with, adding that this equates to giving employees a voice and a say in how things go, making sure they’re appropriately compensated, and making sure their benefits programs are up to date with what current job seekers are looking for.

Beyond these steps, many businesses and industry groups are becoming far more proactive when it comes to creating larger pools of qualified workers. This includes work to partner with vocational schools and other institutions to create pipelines of talent — and keep a steady flow of potential employees in that pipeline.

“Employers really have to find a way of capturing and attracting the kind of skilled workers they really need,” Geehern said. “For example, you will find manufacturing and engineering companies will establish a setup with Springfield Technical Community College, Holyoke Community College, or UMass Amherst. Some of these are training partnerships, some are research partnerships, but it allows them to establish some sort of connection with the institutions that are training the people that are going to be tomorrow’s workers.”

 

Hire Power

Moving forward, the overarching question concerns just how long this will remain an employees’ market. Much depends, economists say, on whether there is a recession and, if there is one, what impact it will have on the jobs market.

The monthly Business Confidence Index (BCI), initiated by AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors, noted that 76% of CEOs globally tell the Conference Board that they expect a recession by the end of 2023 or believe it’s already here. The economy appears to be growing, but employers face growing struggles with soaring fuel prices, supply-chain disruptions, and financial-market volatility.

Chris Geehern

Chris Geehern

“We’re continuing to see a lot of people quitting their jobs and starting new ones. My sense is that, as the economy weakens and job growth slows down, that phenomena will also slow down because employees now think, ‘I can quit this job and go to six different places.’ But if there are only two job openings opposed to the six, employees think twice about leaving.”

The BCI is based on a survey of AIM member companies across Massachusetts, asking questions about current and prospective business conditions in the state and nation, as well as about respondents’ own operations. The index is based on a 100-point scale. A reading above 50 indicates that the state’s employer community is predominantly optimistic, while a reading below 50 points translates to a negative assessment of business conditions.

According to the BCI, business confidence fell 3.9 points to 50.8 in June. The index sits 12.6 points lower than a year ago and marginally higher than the 50 mark that separates an optimistic from a pessimistic view. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, declined 3.3 points to 53.4. The Future Index, measuring projections for the economy six months from now, lost 4.6 points to 48.1.

The Wall Street Journal surveyed economists in June, and its consensus forecast was that unemployment will be 3.9% at the end of this year and 4.6% by the end of 2023. That rate would be higher than what economists are looking at now but, by historic standards, a much lower unemployment rate than is typical for a recession.

“What we may be looking at for the moment here is a jobful recession, rather than a jobless recovery,” Geehern said. “In the sense that job creation has slowed down, it certainly slowed and is out of sync with what we perceive as the decline in output. And those are two things you look at when you want to gauge if we’re in a recession or not: what is happening to economic output and what is happening to employment.”

Elaborating, he said that as economic output goes down, unemployment generally goes up. This time around, the economic output went down in the first and second quarter, but the job market has stayed resilient.

Whether things will stay that way remains to be seen. For now, and for the foreseeable future, what Wise calls an anomaly will be the status quo.

 

Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]

Employment Special Coverage

Questions, Questions

 

At a time when most companies and nonprofit institutions in the region are hiring, or trying to, many area business owners, managers, and HR directors are sitting across the table from job candidates trying to determine if that individual is the proverbial ‘right one.’

Given this climate, BusinessWest asked a number of area business leaders to identify one of their favorite, most effective interview questions. We asked them to explain why they ask that question and what it reveals to them about the candidate.

Suffice it to say, their responses provide some food for thought on a very important part of business.

 

 

Sara Rose Stack

Sara Rose Stack

Sara Rose Stack, Marketing & Recruiting Manager, Meyers Brothers Kalicka

The question: “Tell me something that you would do differently than your current boss at your current job.”

I ask this question to learn more about candidate’s awareness of people around them, their creative problem-solving skills, their desire to improve and grow, and their level of tact. A candidate’s answer to this question will reveal a lot about his/her ability to solve problems, but what I am most interested in is how they communicate their proposed solution. The question itself has a somewhat negative connotation because it is asking for the candidate to share something that their boss could do better or differently. My experience has shown that, if someone will bash a supervisor or competitor to you, then they will repeat the behavior to others. Further, anyone that can share suggestions for improvement in a positive way is a great addition to the team. Tact and diplomacy are powerful tools for making improvements, contributing ideas, and working in a team.

 

Sandra Doran

Sandra Doran

Sandra Doran, President, Bay Path University

The question: A two-parter: “How will this position help you grow your career?” “Tell me about an experience or work project where you had to work across departments to accomplish the goal(s).”

 

In the first part of the question, I am looking for authenticity of the candidate and the ability to be introspective and share their current strengths as well as their vulnerabilities. As their experience grows, their value as contributors to Bay Path will also increase. The second question provides insights to their capacity to be a team player and team leader within our organization. Today, 40% of Bay Path students are students of color, and we are striving to increase the diversity of our employees. As a result, as the candidate explains the project, I am looking for how they respect and handle other opinions and perspectives, value diversity of thought, and exhibit multi-cultural competencies. Above all, the candidate must be both mission- and student-centered.

 

Brenda Olesuk

Brenda Olesuk

Brenda Olesuk, President, Graduate Pest Solutions Inc.

The question: “What do you consider to be your professional and personal strengths, and, conversely, what areas do you struggle with or are not interested in doing professionally?”

 

This is a mainstay question in all of my interviews since it encourages the applicant to be introspective and reflective about themselves — and this tells me a lot about them. Learning what they consider to be their professional strengths and how they’ve applied those strengths often creates context for what they can and will bring to the table in the position they are applying for. Perhaps more important to me is the level of candor with which they communicate areas of struggle or lack of interest and how they have managed this in their career. This question often leads to an additional discussion that unveils the applicant’s openness to coaching and development, which is a trait that is important to me as a leader, manager, and employer.

 

 

Ellen Freyman

Ellen Freyman

Ellen Freyman, Esq., Partner, Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin, P.C.

The question: “What would make you satisfied in this job?”

 

This question lets the applicant know that we care whether our employees are happy working for us, and at the same time, it helps us determine if this applicant will be a good fit. It is also another way of finding out the applicant’s strengths without asking directly, and discloses what part of the job they may not care to do. The answer to this question can reveal why the applicant hasn’t stayed in previous jobs and potentially lead us to rethink some of the things we are doing in our office. The question helps us determine if the applicant understands the position they have applied for and if they have the right skill set. Getting an honest answer to this question helps both the applicant and us know whether hiring this person will be satisfying to both of us.

 

Carla Cosenzi

Carla Cosenzi

Carla Cosenzi, President, TommyCar Auto Group

The question: “How do you delegate responsibilities to team members?”

 

I ask this question to potential hiring candidates because most managers fail at delegation. As a good leader, it is their responsibility to be clear about what they are delegating and their expectations. In our company, it is our manager’s responsibility to offer their team the tools they need to succeed by encouraging and supporting the decision-making environment. The effective delegation and empowerment of their employees is essential for their success as a manager. By asking this question, I am able to learn if a potential candidate is able to release control and effectively delegate, empower, and hold accountable their future team members.

 

Pia Kumar

Pia Kumar

Pia Kumar, Chief Strategy Officer, Universal Plastics

The question: “Why did you leave your last job?” Or, if they are still employed, “Why are you looking to leave this job?”

 

As an employer, I value continuity and longevity in job history. However, the résumé is just a piece of paper. The interview is the opportunity to either rise above what the piece of paper says or minimize it. How someone discusses a job change tells me whether they are a team player, whether they are growth-mindset-oriented, and what kinds of cultures, people, and attributes they either enjoy or don’t. In short, it is the ‘heart’ (as opposed to the ‘head’) part of the interview, which answers the most important question of all for me — do I want this person on my team?

It is never easy to leave a job, whether you do it on your own terms or have been asked to do so. So, how you answer this question brings up your response to a difficult situation, which may even involve conflict or confrontation. As an employer, I want to know how you handle difficult situations. At Universal Plastics, we believe in giving people chances, lots of them, but it has to start from a place of candor and commitment to our culture and the values we espouse, and this question aims to ascertain exactly that.

 

Michael Matty

Michael Matty

Michael Matty, President, St. Germain Investments

The question: “What did your parents do?”

 

I like to ask this because we are all a product of our background, and it is a great opportunity to gain some insight into the person. If, for example, the parents ran their own business, the candidate probably has a good understanding of the needs of a small business and what it takes to make it work. It is also a good opportunity to ask why the candidate doesn’t want to work there. Conversely, the mom may have been stay-at-home, and dad worked in a factory job in a blue-collar role. The candidate may be first-generation college and first-generation in a professional role — sometimes a bit less polished in presentation, but likely with good reason. And if they are smart, energetic, and willing to learn, I’d potentially think they were a good hire. Overall, it’s a good, open-ended question that can lead to some good conversation.

 

Jane Albert

Jane Albert

Jane Albert, Senior Vice President and Chief Consumer Officer, Baystate Health

The question: “What impact has the pandemic had on you?

 

This is a newer question I ask because it opens the door to conversation about a current topic of significance with many pathways to get to know the candidate. Asking a broad, open-ended question provides the candidate with a choice to respond with an orientation toward their personal life or their work experiences. like to provide that option to make it most comfortable for the candidate during the interview. This question enables conversation about how they handled changes and challenges related to the pandemic and offers glimpses into how they may handle and adjust to changes within our healthcare environment and their potential new work responsibilities. It also opens the door to learning about the candidate’s priorities, relationships, engagements, and abilities to adapt to change, along with how they handled this in their daily life as well as throughout their work experiences.

 

 

Kate Campiti

Kate Campiti

Kate Campiti, Associate Publisher and Sales Manager, BusinessWest

The question: “Have you had experience in the service industry?”

 

When I interview for sales, I look for — and ask about — experience in the service industry. If the candidate has it, I ask how they’ve handled a tough customer or table and how they turned it around or were able to shake it off to continue successfully serving the rest of the shift. If candidates can wait tables or bartend successfully, it shows they have what it takes to think on their feet, appeal to customers, and provide high-level service to earn tips. It also shows they are driven by both money and customer service, which bodes well for a sales position with BusinessWest. For other positions, I typically ask what motivates them, what they do to unwind, if they have tactics for stress relief inside and outside the office, and what they think their best assets and weaknesses are and what they think their current or previous employers would say.

Law

Time to Make a Strong Case

Ken Albano, managing partner at Bacon Wilson.

For years now, it’s been the common refrain among those charged with hiring at companies across a number of industry sectors: good help is hard — or at least harder — to find and retain.

Increasingly, words to that effect are being heard in a sector where they’ve traditionally not been heard as much — the legal community.

Indeed, representatives of several area firms told BusinessWest that, while they can still recruit and hire talent — for the most part — it’s a more challenging assignment in many cases and often takes longer.

“It’s certainly more challenging now than it has been in the past,” said John Gannon, a partner and employment-law specialist at Springfield-based Skoler, Abbott & Presser, who penned an article for this issue on the many questions employers have about dealing with coronavirus. “But this is not unique to law firms — this is economy-wide, nationwide; it’s just hard to find people because everyone’s working.”

Indeed, this is, by and large, a buyer’s, or job seeker’s, market. Given these conditions, where law firms — like other employers in virtually every sector — are upping the ante with wages and benefits, it becomes more difficult for Springfield-area firms to compete. It’s a completely different playing field than the one that existed during and just after the Great Recession, he went on, when jobs were scarce and law firms saturated with lawyers were very much in the driver’s seat.

Ken Albano, managing partner at Bacon Wilson, which is based in Springfield and also has offices in Northampton and Westfield, agreed.

“It’s certainly more challenging now than it has been in the past. But this is not unique to law firms — this is economy-wide, nationwide; it’s just hard to find people because everyone’s working.”

“It’s challenging, but then it’s always been somewhat challenging in this market,” he told BusinessWest, adding that many factors are contributing to the current environment, including everything from the smaller classes at many law schools, which resulted from that depressed job market after the Great Recession, among other factors, to the lower pay scales in the 413 compared to markets like Boston, New York, and even Hartford (more on that later), to what appears to be fewer people moving into certain areas of the law.

To emphasize that last point, he reached for the Feb. 24 issue of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, specifically the ‘Employment’ page. Using a blue sharpie, he had circled the ads seeking litigators with varying levels of experience — and there were quite a few of them.

John Gannon says recruiting lawyers to this market has always been somewhat challenging, and with the current job climate, it is even more so.

‘Associate — Civil Litigation’ read one ad, while another was headlined ‘Senior Litigation Associate,’ and several read simply ‘Litigation Associate.’ One, for a firm in Charlestown, was more specific: ‘Trusts & Estates & Probate Litigation Associate — Must Love Dogs.’

Albano’s interest in those ads was understandable.

“Our firm’s biggest frustration has been in that one particular practice area, litigation,” he said, noting that the firm lost two of its best litigators, Bob Murphy and Kevin Maltby, to the bench in recent years, and has struggled to fill the void. “And I’m not sure why that is; maybe it’s the anxiety, maybe people don’t like to speak in public. It’s not just us — people are struggling to find people who want to go to court.”

Putting aside the need for litigators, and even litigators who love dogs, hiring has, overall, become more challenging for law firms in Greater Springfield, and this is prompting a response similar to that given by those in other sectors. Specifically, it’s one focused on being imaginative and resourceful, and employing tactics designed to familiarize law-school students with opportunities in this area and also sell this region both to those just starting their careers and those looking at a lateral move.

“We made a decision at a partners’ retreat to put a very targeted and strategic approach to hiring in place,” said Betsey Quick, executive director at Bulkley Richardson, which has offices in Springfield and Hadley, adding that part of this strategy is to focus primarily on area law schools, bring in summer associates and interns, and make them familiar with the firm and the region. And it’s a strategy that’s working.

“These are people who have a connection to the area, and our client community is out our windows,” she explained. “It’s a challenge to find someone who wants to be in the area, but there are so many law schools within 50 miles, and these students have a connection to the community, and if you have a connection to the community, you’re going to know people who need legal services.”

For this issue and its focus on law, BusinessWest takes a look at the job market and the challenges facing firms seeking to hire. As in the courtroom itself, this assignment requires making a very strong case in order to prevail in the end.

Hire Power

As this issue went to press, those managing area law firms certainly had a lot more on their minds than finding new associates.

Indeed, as the number of coronavirus cases climbed steadily upward through last week, every firm in the region was developing contingency plans, making preparations for employees to work at home if necessary, checking corporate insurance policies to see if they’re covered (probably not) in the event that the virus seriously disrupts business, and monitoring the situation at the various law schools — some, including Western New England University, were weighing whether to shut things down for the rest of the spring, and some had already decided to do so.

“Our firm’s biggest frustration has been in that one particular practice area, litigation. And I’m not sure why that is; maybe it’s the anxiety, maybe people don’t like to speak in public. It’s not just us — people are struggling to find people who want to go to court.”

But the matter of hiring is an all-important one in this sector, and it is an issue for the long term as firms look to do everything from filling specific vacancies in departments to ensuring a healthy mix of young and mid-career lawyers to ensure sustainability and inevitable transition to a younger generation, said Quick, adding that Bulkey Richardson recognized a need for such a mix and is aggressively pursuing one.

“We have a commitment to hire, or attempt to hire, at least three young people per year,” she said, adding that this number could go higher if the firm sees good talent and doesn’t want to pass it up. “And that’s part of our strategy; if we don’t keep a targeted and strategic approach to hiring young lawyers, we’re going to be top-heavy.

“Every firm faces succession issues,” she went on. “It’s a difficult, challenging problem to face, and part of it is just bringing up young lawyers behind them, especially while they’re here to talk to them and train them and take them to meet clients; it’s important to tap that wealth of knowledge.”

But when it comes to hiring lawyers, the Springfield market has always been somewhat unique — and challenging, said those we spoke with.

Betsey Quick

Betsey Quick says Bulkley Richardson’s hiring strategy has focused on seeking out law-school students who can make local connections and, overall, a commitment to this market.

In some ways, it competes with firms in New York, Boston, Hartford, Providence, and Worcester for talent, but its wage scale has always been significantly below New York and Boston and also well below those in those other cities. So, in some respects, this region doesn’t compete against those markets.

“What comes with practicing in this market is a lower salary — it’s a fact of life,” said Albano. “And a lot of times, when we do make offers to potential new associates, we can’t compete with the Boston and Hartford markets because, on average, a new associate can make a lot more money working in those arenas than they can in Springfield or Amherst or wherever.

“We’ve lost associates in the commercial practice group to Hartford,” he went on, estimating that salaries there are perhaps 20% higher than in Springfield. “And we don’t chase people — we say, ‘this is the offer, and it’s the same offer we’ve made to people that have been in your shoes, and they’re working here now.’ That’s one of the reasons why it’s hard to compete with those markets.”

Overall, the strategy has been to sell this market as a great place to live — and practice law — and to target (and in some respects recruit) candidates who want to be in this market and can commit to being here.

“We’re always looking for people who want to put down roots in Springfield,” said Gannon. “That’s a very important characteristic in all of the applicants we look at.”

Albano agreed.

“It’s tough to have someone from the Boston area come here knowing that the salary is going to be less,” he said, referring in this case to lateral hires. “But you try to impress upon these people that the cost of living is much less here. And we’ve seen both sides of the fence; we’ve had people that have worked in Boston come here and say, ‘I’d love to have a place where my dog can walk on real grass, have a fence around my yard, and not have to go to a skyscraper to go to work.’”

Quick, who handled aspects of recruiting for firms in Boston and Washington, D.C. before coming to Bulkley Richardson, acknowledged that the Springfield market is somewhat unique because of the lower salary ranges, underscoring the need, when it comes to entry-level hiring, to focus on law students who have or can create local connections.

“Anyone can look at the GPA [grade point average] and see how these students are doing on paper,” she told BusinessWest. “But are they going to fit culturally? Are they going to stay in the area? Do they have a tie to the area? Do they have a reason to want to be here? These are the things we look for.”

As for those already in the profession, in this tight job market, the task of recruiting and hiring becomes more difficult because most people are working, said Gannon, and also because the companies they’re working for want to keep them. And it’s the same in the legal profession.

“Most of the people who want to be working are working, and because unemployment rates are so low, what employers have been doing for the past couple of years is doing whatever they can to retain good people,” he said, adding that this means law-firm managers as well. “This means higher compensation, trying to pay more of the lion’s share of employee benefits, offering more generous PTO [paid time off] policies, and letting people work at home, which is a big one for many people. People are happy where they’re working — most of them, anyway.”

As for those coming right out of law school, they certainly want to be happy where they work, and, given the current climate, they have a good chance of succeeding with that mission. One strategy for Western Mass. firms — again, one that businesses in other sectors employ as well — is to familiarize young people with the region and create a familiarity and comfort level that may help sway decisions when it comes time to find a job.

“We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve been able to hire bright, qualified individuals in law school, both at Western New England and UConn, to become law clerks at Bacon Wilson,” he said. “They work for us for a couple of years, and we can see the progress and the value, and quite often they’ll say, ‘I like this place, it’s like family; is there a job opening for us?’ And more often than not, we make one for them because we want to keep that type of talent on our page.”

Final Arguments

Looking down the road is always difficult — especially when there is an unprecedented wildcard like the coronavirus. Indeed, law firms might soon be in less of a growth mode than they currently are.

But for now, and for the foreseeable future, the outlook is promising for business — if not for recruiting lawyers to the 413, necessarily. Whether the task is filling a vacancy in the estate planning or real estate department or finding a litigator — one who loves dogs or not — the assignment is becoming increasingly challenging.

And, like employers across the broad spectrum of business, law firms must respond proactively to this changing environment.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Pioneer Valley Hotel Group is hosting a job fair for our brand new Homewood Suites by Hilton property in Hadley, MA. We will be conducting interviews at the job fair on February 5, 2019.

Positions Available Part Time and Full Time
Front Desk Agents, Housekeepers, Breakfast Attendants, Evening Social Attendant, Laundry Attendants, and Houseman

People on the Move

Local news hires, promotions, awards, and appointments

Daniel Bonelli

Daniel Bonelli

Comcast announced the appointment of Daniel Bonelli as vice president of Finance for the company’s Western New England Region, which includes more than 300 communities in Connecticut, Western Mass., New York, Vermont, and Western New Hampshire. In this role, Bonelli will oversee all financial operations, including finance and accounting, warehouse and materials, information technology, facilities, security, fleet management, and environmental health and safety. Bonelli began his career with Comcast in the Western New England Region in 2007 as a financial analyst. He quickly progressed to manager and then director before being promoted to senior director of Finance in 2014. In 2016, he relocated to the Philadelphia area, where he served as senior director of Finance for one of Comcast’s largest regions, overseeing a team of 60. Bonelli graduated with a bachelor’s degree in finance from Central Connecticut State University.

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Rania Kfuri

MaryLynn Murray

The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts (WFWM) announced that Rania Kfuri and MaryLynn Murray have joined its Board of Directors. They will each serve a three-year term. Kfuri currently works as the Communications and Partnerships officer for the Solidago Foundation. Throughout her life experiences, she has worked to support educational opportunities and access to resources that improve the lives of women and girls. She has a professional background in international development, with a master’s degree in ethics, peace, and global affairs from American University in Washington D.C. Murray is vice president for Commercial Lines and Sales at the Insurance Center of New England. She holds an MBA with a concentration in human resources and has been employed in the insurance industry since 2002. She previously served on the board of the Agawam Small Business Assoc. and on the Women’s Fund marketing committee. In addition, new officers elected include Haydee Lamberty-Rodriguez as board president (formerly vice president), Leigh Rae as vice president (formerly board clerk), and Pia Kumar as clerk. Layla Taylor, immediate past board president, will remain on the board through June 2019.

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Valley Venture Mentors CEO Liz Roberts announced that she will be leaving her position as of July 13, at which time current chief operating officer Kristin Leutz will take the helm of the organization that has been dedicated to nurturing entrepreneurship in Western Mass. Roberts plans to depart after a period of growth for Valley Venture Mentors (VVM). During her tenure, she launched the Startup Accelerator program, in which entrepreneurs receive five months of training, mentoring, office space, and access to equity-free funding. Entrepreneurs who graduated from all VVM programs generated $51 million in revenue and fundraising during the past three years, and created 500 full-time and part-time jobs over the course of 2017. The Startup Accelerator program earned recognition as a model rural accelerator by the Obama administration. Prior to joining Valley Venture Mentors as COO in 2017, Leutz served as vice president for Philanthropic Services at the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, where she helped create programs such as Valley Gives. Leutz also aided entrepreneurs at VVM as a volunteer mentor for many years before joining the team. She has had a career in global philanthropy and business leadership spanning organizations like MassMutual and RefugePoint, a Cambridge- and Nairobi-based, globally recognized social-impact startup. She has led operations, fundraising, and marketing, and brings decades of experience to her role at VVM.

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Patrick Love

Springfield College announced that Patrick Love will serve a two-year interim appointment as vice president for Student Affairs and program director of the Student Personnel Administration (SPA) program, effective Aug. 6.  The college will resume a national search for both positions in 2020. Love will serve as a member of the president’s leadership team in his role as VP for Student Affairs and will work closely with the leadership of the Division of Academic Affairs in his role as SPA program director. He brings to Springfield College a career in higher-education leadership and teaching, spanning managerial work in student affairs and academic affairs, and as a professor in Student Affairs. He is a lifelong educator who focuses on growth, development, and transformation.  He is also an experienced writer, author, speaker, coach, and trainer on leadership and management development.  He has consulted with or spoken at more than 40 colleges and universities, was a tenured professor at two research universities, and is nationally known for his innovative approaches to management as well as a commitment to student education and development.  He is active in both the American College Personnel Assoc. and the National Assoc. of Student Personnel Administrators. Most recently, Love was executive in residence at Bowling Green State University, serving as senior lecturer. Previously, he was vice president for Student Affairs at New York Institute of Technology, associate vice president for Student Affairs at Rutgers University, associate provost for Student Success at Pace University, co-director of the Higher Education Program at New York University, and director of the Master’s Higher Education Program at Kent State University.

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Hector Toledo

Jocelyn Walsh

Jacqueline O’Connell

Joseph Dallair

Greenfield Savings Bank (GSB) announced four team members for its new Hadley office: Hector Toledo, Jocelyn Walsh, Jacqueline O’Connell, and Joseph Dallair. Toledo has been named office manager of the new Hadley office. He joins Greenfield Savings Bank with 28 years of experience in banking. In his role as manager, he will concentrate on business development, in addition to managing the operations of the Hadley Office. Among his volunteer roles for numerous local nonprofit organizations, Toledo is a board member and chair of the finance committee of Baystate Health and a member of the board of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. He has previously chaired the board of Springfield Technical Community College and served as a board member of both the YMCA of Greater Springfield and the United Way of Pioneer Valley. Walsh has been promoted to the Hadley office as a super banker. GSB super bankers are customer-service professionals who can assist customers with a wide range of banking services, including account openings, online and mobile banking, as well as account transactions. Before joining the staff in Hadley, she worked for GSB at the Shelburne Falls office for more than two years. O’Connell has joined the staff of the Hadley office as a super banker. She has worked for GSB for more than three years at the Amherst office on University Drive. Dallair has joined the staff of the Hadley office as a teller. Prior to joining the team at Greenfield Savings Bank, he worked for three years in customer-service positions in other industries. He began working at GSB in 2017 as a teller in the Greenfield office.

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Kimberley Lee, a recognized leader in the nonprofit sector of the Western Mass. region, has joined the staff of MHA, a nonprofit provider of residential and support services to people impacted by mental illness, developmental disabilities, substance abuse, and homelessness. Lee is taking on the newly created role of vice president of Resource Development and Branding for MHA. Lee previously served in communications and development roles in several local nonprofit organizations, including CHD, Square One, the Basketball Hall of Fame, and the Community United Way. She has advanced these organizations and the people they serve with an active voice in the community and through vigorous advocacy achieved by constant policy influence at the local, community, and state level. A lifelong resident of Western Mass., Lee earned her bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Westfield State College.

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River Valley Counseling Center (RVCC) named Anna Dyrkacz to be its director of Finance. She was appointed to the position last month by Rosemarie Ansel, RVCC’s executive director. Dyrkacz has more than 17 years experience in the healthcare and human-services industry and came to River Valley Counseling Center from a leadership position at Pathlight. She has also held leadership positions at Southgate Retirement Community, Cooley Dickinson Hospital, and Kindred Healthcare of Springfield. She has a bachelor’s degree and MBA from Western New England University, majoring in finance.

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Jeremy Melton

Florence Bank promoted Jeremy Melton to the position of first vice president/Risk Management, Compliance and Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) officer. Melton joined Florence Bank in 2012. Prior to his recent promotion, he served as vice president/Risk Management, Compliance and CRA officer. Melton supports his community as the board chair and finance/audit committee member at Tapestry. He also serves as a board member for the Western Massachusetts Compliance Assoc.

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Mary Ann Coughlin, associate vice president for Academic Affairs at Springfield College, was recently awarded the John E. Stecklein Distinguished Member Award from the Assoc. for Institutional Research (AIR). The award recognizes an individual whose professional career has significantly advanced the field of institutional research through extraordinary scholarship, leadership, and service. Coughlin has a long-standing relationship with the AIR, including serving as a past president and as a trainer for national workshops sponsored by the association. In 2012, she was the recipient of the Assoc. for Institutional Research Outstanding Service Award, recognizing her professional leadership and exemplary service to AIR and for actively supporting and facilitating the goals and mission of the association. During her tenure at Springfield College, Coughlin has served in a variety of positions, including faculty member, president of the faculty senate, and her current administrative position in Academic Affairs. Coughlin worked as a professor of Research and Statistics at the college prior to moving into administration. In her current role, she supervises academic support services and provides leadership for program review, outcomes assessment, faculty development, student success initiatives, and institutional research.

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The Rotary Club of Springfield elected its new President, Susan Mastroianni, and board of directors at its recent meeting.Originally from the Bronx, N.Y., Mastroianni worked in Springfield for more than 26 years, first as media director for FitzGerald & Robbins Advertising and then as a partner and director of Media Services at FitzGerald & Mastroianni Advertising in Springfield, which closed in 2016. She has been a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield since May 2006. In addition to being president, she chairs the club’s publicity committee also serves as vice president of the board of directors for the Gray House in Springfield. She is a graduate of Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., with a bachelor’s degree in communication arts.

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Every year, the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women asks every state legislator to nominate someone from their district as an “Unsung Heroine.” For state Rep. Aaron Vega, this year’s pick was Debbie Flynn-Gonzalez, program director at the Gándara Center’s Hope for Holyoke peer-recovery support center. Flynn-Gonzalez began her career in social work as a mental-health clinician performing outreach work in Holyoke 24 years ago before her personal background in recovery led her to work with the recovery community. She launched the first peer-recovery program for pregnant and parenting women in Holyoke and led that program for eight years. She has been program director for three years at Hope for Holyoke, which has 300 active members, with an average of 50 people accessing the center daily. Flynn-Gonzalez earned her bachelor’s degree in social work at UMass Amherst and her master’s degree in counseling and psychology from Cambridge College.

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The United Way of Pioneer Valley announced that Kathryn Dube is serving as interim president and CEO as the board of directors conducts a search for a new CEO. Dube is a former chairman and vice chairman of the board at United Way of Pioneer Valley and has served as chairman to a number of United Way of Pioneer Valley committees. Most recently she was employed as senior advisor for the United Way of Pioneer Valley since her retirement in December 2017 and was recognized as United Way Volunteer of the Year in 2014 and 2015. Prior to retirement, Dube was a senior vice president of Retail Banking and Wealth Management at TD Bank and Berkshire Bank.

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KeyBank recently announced the addition of new retail leaders in markets across Connecticut and Massachusetts. Locally, Brandon Ojakian joined KeyBank with the title of vice president and area retail leader in the Northern Conn. and Western Mass. markets. Ojakian has 20 years of experience in the banking and finance industry. He joins KeyBank from Santander Bank, where he served as a district executive leading branch teams in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Prior to Santander, he led several retail regions for Citizens Bank. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Albertus Magnus College.

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