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Help with hiring a diverse staff? Try regional consortium

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Some Greater Lehigh Valley businesses have found that there is a lot more to recruiting and hiring a diverse workforce than opportunity, good salary and strong benefits.

Potential employees may see that the job is great and the company is great, “but if they don’t see themselves living their life here — whether it’s by themselves or with a family — then they are less likely to accept that offer,” said Donna Cornelius, president and executive director of the Lehigh Valley Inter-Regional Networking & Connecting Consortium.

LINC, as the nonprofit is known, helps local companies recruit, hire and retain diverse talent from outside the region by connecting new and prospective hires to local resources and communities of interest.

“We can ask all the questions that HR [human resources] can’t ask: Are you bringing a partner? Are you bringing children? Are there religious affiliations? Are there special needs?” Cornelius said.

“We take it from a very human perspective of recruitment and retention.”

For some recruits, that may mean finding schools that will be most suitable for their children, particularly if they have special needs or don’t speak English. For one client, one piece of help was as simple as locating hair salons that do African-American hair braiding.

“There are a lot of personal things we do to help the family transition into the community,” Cornelius said.

Those things can range from addressing quality of life issues to helping new hires and their families connect to a community that is familiar to them.

“The one thing about hiring diverse talent is that they won’t do what they don’t know and they won’t do what they don’t see,” Cornelius said. “If they don’t see themselves here, they’re less likely to take a job.

“People need to visualize their lives here.”

STARTED AT LEHIGH

LINC was founded two years ago thanks to a grant Lehigh University received from the National Science Foundation to aid in the recruitment of women faculty in science, technology, engineering and math. The university brought together a consortium of local business and academic leaders to pursue that goal on a more regional level.

“We’re not a placement agency. We’re not a recruiting firm,” Cornelius said. “But what we do, because we work with all of these employers, is we’ve taken a regional approach to recruitment and retention.

“All of our member organizations are all committed to helping every other organization recruit and retain their talent.”

LINC also is developing a program to educate local employers about diversity and inclusion and the best practices for recruitment and retention to build an inclusive workforce, Cornelius said.

LARGE AND SMALL BUSINESSES

The organization now stands on its own thanks to a growing partnership with numerous Lehigh Valley institutions and businesses and more than 100 client businesses that have used the service.

Those partners include six local colleges, Lehigh Valley Health Network, St. Luke’s University Health Network, Air Products and Chemicals, PPL Corp., B. Braun and Lutron.

The organization also worked with many small businesses to help in their recruiting efforts, Cornelius said.

“We’ll work with any employer because all of them have the same issues,” she said. “They just may not have as frequent hiring cycles, but they have the same issues. They know it’s a struggle for people coming from outside the area to find local resources to get connected in the Lehigh Valley.”

FEELING WELCOME

Some organizations use LINC as part of recruiting to help prospective minority employees become familiar with the region and the resources and communities that may be of interest to them.

Other companies use LINC to help them to retain talent that may be having trouble finding those connections.

“If you’re not making — whether its professional connections or social connections for life outside of work — those connections, where they feel like they’re developing a community, they’re less likely to stay in the job,” Cornelius said.

“It takes a village to raise a child, and it take a community to make a person feel welcome.”

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