The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Tapping Into Local Talent: Drexel University’s Hire Local Strategy

Charged by the university president to become the most civically engaged institution in the nation, Drexel University began formulating a local hiring strategy that has resulted in reduced turnover rates, increased collaboration with community partners and career opportunities for West Philadelphia residents.

Jennifer Britton, director for communications and special projects in the office of university and community partnerships at Drexel University, shared Drexel’s local hiring strategy and how the university has become a positive partner in the West Philadelphia community (where residents struggle with unemployment and low education attainment) and boosted Drexel’s local hiring percentage from 8 to 12.5 percent.

If you’re ready to introduce a local hiring strategy at your institution, consider these steps Drexel took to get started:

  • Analyze the data and identify your goals. What is “local” to you? What is the desired geographic footprint of your strategy? What are the overlaps and gaps between local residents’ skills and interests and your institution’s employment requirements and opportunities? What are the average local education attainment and adult literacy levels? Which jobs in your institution are residents applying for? What strengths and weaknesses do they bring in terms of skills and qualifications? The answers to these questions will help you determine whether to establish a local adult education and degree completion program or design a cohort-based on-the-job training. Furthermore, is your goal to increase local hires or to increase local hires to full-time positions with benefits? Britton recommends training intentionally and focusing on building community wealth rather than simply checking a box. For example, the training programs at Drexel only run when there are corresponding job openings, and each trainee who completes the program secures an interview.
  • Identify departments in your institution with high turnover rates. Knowing which gaps to fill in your institution will help you determine the skills and education residents need to be considered for employment at your institution. It’s equally important to know why employees are leaving these positions to begin with. Is it a worker problem or a manager problem? If it’s a manager problem, manager training can take place simultaneously with a local employee recruitment and training program. Manager training can teach how to give effective and continuous feedback, how to communicate with workers about what the workplace and management needs, and how to manage effectively across lines of class, race and ethnicity.
  • Find your partners and collaborators. Internal partners should include top-level leadership, including the chief financial officer; leadership in the HR division; implementation staff (a member of HR or a supervisor in a department with high turnover); and professional staff in community outreach and engagement. External partners should include your city or county workforce access and training intermediary who can facilitate any customized job training; city, state or regional workforce body or philanthropic partner for support in securing wage reimbursements; or a regional and well-regarded adult literacy and GED completion training agency, health and wellness services, and a digital media and music industry program.

Additionally, a supportive infrastructure goes a long way. Drexel began working on its strategy with a goal set by the university president. However, Britton said you can start without support of top leadership, but that it will be beneficial when making large policy changes at the institution.

Read more about Drexel University’s Hire Local initiative and other talent management-related articles in the new issue of CUPA-HR’s The Higher Education Workplace magazine.  


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