As the state of Wisconsin continues to demonstrate record low unemployment numbers, the Oneida Nation continues to be a leader among all employers in northeast Wisconsin. As of November 2019, the tribe employs more than 2,800 workers across 21 diverse areas despite challenges with recruiting and retention in this competitive employment market. Only Humana and Schneider National employ more workers than the Nation in Brown County.
“(Even though) we’re an employment leader we still face shortages with nurses, teachers, child care, and Behavioral Health,” Wendy Alvarez, Director of Recruitment and Employment for the Oneida Nation, said. “But it’s not just us, it’s nationwide. There’s so much competition for these specialists and right now the tribe isn’t able to offer a fluid recruitment package such as hiring bonuses and things of that nature. Sometimes we put internal constraints on ourselves with hiring budgets even though there’s a lot of competition due to the nationwide low unemployment rate.”
Despite the difficulty in recruiting and retaining quality employees, the Oneida Nation continues to find ways to overcome these obstacles. “Our Gaming Division has raised their minimum wage, however some of our other programs and divisions are still hiring at the tribal minimum,” Alvarez said. “So, we need to be more consistent across the organization when it comes to that. But our benefits are nothing short of phenomenal, and this is a huge recruitment tool. Especially with our incredible paid time off benefits.”
Another way the tribe has worked to stay competitive is by broadening its recruitment efforts. “We’ve gone into posting our available positions beyond just on our Oneida webpage,” Oneida Nation Human Resources Recruiter Nicole Hill-Valenzuela said. “Millennials today simply go on their phones to look for jobs. Many times they’ll put their resume out there and wait for emails and texts back. So, I think being technology-based and getting the jobs out there on other websites and social media is very important because that’s just the era we live in now. We also attend a lot of the area job fairs throughout Brown County, so we definitely have our hands in that as well.”
“We also work with area colleges like NWTC, UWGB, and College of Menominee Nation to try to recruit prospects before they graduate,” Alvarez said. “We do our best to work every avenue to get to those tribal members who are enrolled in college or high school and find out what field they’re interested in. For example if somebody’s interested in pharmacy, we’ll send our job description to them and actually network with them through our Higher Education Department.”
Of course once the Oneida Nation has landed an employee and that individual has proven their value to the organization, the next step is retaining the services of that worker. “A big piece of employee retention is scheduling flexibility,” Alvarez said. “Some areas under our umbrella have longer weekend hours and they’re working to be aware with current employees and new hires to meet their flexible-scheduling needs. And shift differentials for Gaming, Retail, and medical professionals are given for those who work evening and overnight hours.
“Another big piece we need to look at as a whole is performance-based wage increases,” Alvarez said. “At this point in time we can’t give stellar employees a deserved wage increase. They get the same standard raise that everybody gets across the board, but that’s an issue that’s out of our realm at this point and needs to be adjusted.”
Yet another huge recruitment and retention tool the tribe can now use is the recent announcement that the Oneida Nation will be rolling out 100 percent employer paid health insurance premiums for the year 2020. This pleasant announcement caught many employees by surprise. “The 100 percent employer paid health insurance premiums are, in part, a result of other health plan changes that are being implemented in 2020,” Joshua Cottrell, Compensation and Benefits Director for the Oneida Nation, said. “One of the changes will be that the Nation’s health plan will become the payor of last resort when other insurance is present. The change to payor of last resort will be implemented in phases over the next few years and has the potential for the Nation to save significantly on health care costs.
“Implementing these types of health plan changes allows the Nation to continue to offer a health plan that is affordable to employees,” Cottrell said. “This, in turn, allows the Nation to continue to be a leader in our benefits offerings and assist the Nation with our recruitment and retention efforts. Our medical premiums are reviewed and determined annually, and our intent may be to continue the 100 percent employer paid medical premiums, but they are reviewed annually to determine if adjustments are needed.”
Employee feedback is also another component taken into consideration when HRD attempts to ascertain what areas, if any, need adjustments. “Employee feedback, like an exit evaluation for example, allows workers to express their concerns, positive and negative, which gives us an idea of how certain areas may do better,” Hill-Valenzuela said. “We really take their feedback to heart and we want them all to know that. We know there’s always room for improvement.”
Despite some budgetary limitations, the Oneida Nation continues to flourish due to the hard work and dedication of its employees across all areas. And the Human Resources Department, along with their recruiters, continues to find ways to attract and retain quality workers in this very challenging hiring market. The Nation continues to be an employment leader throughout northeast Wisconsin, and the tribe doesn’t appear to be showing any signs of slowing down.