The coronavirus pandemic continues to present obstacles for employers and employees alike. Employers have had to become more flexible as workers face family care and internet challenges. 

Deondra Jackson, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative talent coordinator and a Louisa County native, said that her company has changed how it approaches the interview process as it looks to fill positions. 

“It’s definitely shifted our focus [to identifying] what candidates need from us and if we’re able to meet those expectations,” she said.  

The pandemic has imposed new kinds of stress on families. Some employees need to work from home because they are immunocompromised. Others have to adjust their work schedules if they have children enrolled in virtual school or have a family member that needs additional care.  

One challenge businesses in rural communities may face even in normal times is the ability to pay competitively, Jackson said. That can be balanced out to some extent by offering a flexible schedule. 

“We all want to work for a place that sees what we’re bringing to the table and is willing to compensate us for that,” she said. “And when I say compensate, I don’t necessarily mean money, but I mean flexibility, benefits, work-life balance, and a good work environment.”

Flexibility starts in the recruitment and interview process. To get around restrictions presented by the virus, some employers are relying more heavily on technology to connect with potential hires.

In a typical year, Michael Pelloni, Louisa County Public Schools assistant superintendent for administration, said that they typically recruit new teachers and staff through job fairs. These were all canceled because of COVID-19. As a solution, the schools held a virtual job fair and then interviewed candidates via computer. 

About 150 people attended the job fair, and the schools hired 20 of them. Although he described the event as successful, Pelloni said interviewing people online wasn’t easy. 

“The individual’s screen freezing, the sound quality, and not being able to read body language can impact an interview,” he said. 

The schools strived to be flexible, however, when it came to technical difficulties during an interview. 

They would “hit the reset button,” Pelloni said, and either try the video interview again or do it by phone. 

“We weren’t going to rule somebody out just because of technical difficulties,” he said. 

These issues are common in Louisa, where broadband access is limited. Not only do people experience challenges with internet connectivity, but some may not be able to connect at all. 

Jackson encouraged employers to rely on other recruitment methods such as referral programs. 

“Don’t always use the internet [to recruit candidates] because that may not be the way that you’re going to find your candidate,” she said. 

Connecting with networks within the community is another good way to spread the word, Jackson said. She added that churches, which tend to act as community hubs, are a good place to start in Louisa County.

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