Higher ed faces new world of benefits

Today’s college job candidates want choice and customization to match their lifestyle
By: | Issue: April, 2016
March 23, 2016

As director of talent acquisition at Kansas State University, Roberta Maldonado Franzen became a bit surprised by the kinds of employee benefit questions that job candidates were asking during interviews last year.

The university is in Manhattan, Kansas, often referred to as the “Little Apple.” Of the estimated 1,500 people who apply for jobs each year, she says at least 15 percent ask whether the Little Apple supports museums and theaters.

Those concerns have prompted the school’s recruiters to mention cultural benefits during conversations with job candidates and to promote them in marketing materials.

The on-campus Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art and McCain Auditorium hosts many events ranging from ARTSmart Programs for Children to shows featuring the Blue Man Group and Vienna Boys Choir, Maldonado Franzen says. “The Beach museum director is from Chicago and brings in quite a bit of diversity and events that appeal to a wide range of individuals.”

Employee benefits at higher education institutions are generally robust and truly hard to beat. More than ever, job candidates are attracted to employers that offer choice or the ability to customize benefits that cater to their individual lifestyle.

Straying from the pack

After healthcare, the most requested benefits among job candidates are flexible work schedules and career development or continuing education, according to several higher education institutions.

Maldonado Franzen says at least half of job candidates also inquire about tuition assistance. Those applying for faculty positions focus on research support and funding, availability of graduate students for research projects, and trailing spouse benefits.

She believes the next wave of benefits will involve job sharing, where two same-level employees perform the full range of duties associated with one full-time post. It’s common in the corporate world when a staff member can’t work full time because of health or personal commitments but the number of hours required for the job can’t be reduced.

“It would be great as part of our 2025 plan to introduce job sharing to help us recruit and attract millennials,” Maldonado Franzen says, although not many schools offer that option. “We have discussed how we can pilot such a program and see if it works for individuals.”

Other candidates inquire about a school’s in-house culture, says Donna Salvo, executive director of systemwide talent management and staff development for the University of California, which supports 180,000 employees.

Consider you’re recruiting for a medical researcher. If a school’s culture values world-class research and innovation, working alongside brilliant scientists acts as a huge magnet, she says. For many, that benefit might outrank others like vision coverage or housing assistance.

Focus on talent, not the job

Surveys conducted by the Florida-based Institute for Corporate Productivity (www.i4cp.com) reveal some interesting job requirements from so-called Gen Zers, the latest generation to enter the workforce.

Besides a private workspace—cubicles are now passé—those in this generation say they will prefer job longevity at a large, profitable and socially-responsible company that offers many different types of work experiences.

Likewise, this generation want a boss who: Develops inhouse talent; offers face-to-face feedback about job performance; delivers presentations in-person rather than via YouTube; and—get ready for this one—allows them to write their own job description and title, says Jay Jamrog, cofounder of the organization.

“Employers are catching onto this and focusing on the talent first, rather than the job they fill,” Jamrog says. “They’ll hire people who are extremely talented and then they’ll write a job description after hiring them.”

What makes Gen Zers tick—what Jamrog refers to as their “generational marker”—is the need for security. During their formative years the world was—and still is—a very scary place, he says. They’ve witnessed a great deal of global upheaval, ranging from a recession with massive layoffs to school shootings to terrorist attacks.

Regardless of how job candidates view the world of work, they want employers to offer a world full of choice, opportunity and flexibility. Although somewhat idealistic, can you really blame them?

Carol Patton is a Las Vegas-based writer who specializes in human resources issues.