<p>WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – While opinions differ on what is the greatest challenge facing credit unions, human resource experts say the ultimate answer boils down to finding and keeping great employees-and that means paying close attention to the human resources department. "The shrinking labor market continues to be the biggest problem we face," said Space Coast Credit Union Human Resources Vice President Donna Carson. "Credit unions are not glamorous jobs like the dot com's of yesterday were, but somehow we have to become a destination employer." According to an American Society of Association Executives Association Management survey, human resource directors are becoming more prevalent within associations. In 1995 only 12% had a human resources director compared to 62% in 2001. ASAE Human Resource Director Helen Marquez opined that the renewed interest in human resource department growth may be linked to increased benefit offerings. Benefits have become more complex during the past several years and require a more in-depth understanding. Human resource directors are called upon to negotiate optimal benefits packages for their employees. "Human resource directors have increasingly earned authority," said Marquez. "There used to be a time when it was believed that anyone could do the `personnel work' but that is no longer the case," she adds. "HR is now involved in the most senior levels of decision making and is one of the most indispensable functions." That proved true at the $783 million SCCU. In a 12-month period ending January 1998, turnover was at an all-time high of 62%, and out of 250 employees, 155 left. Embracing a quote from the book First Break All the Rules, which says, "People don't leave bad companies, they leave bad managers" Carson says there was an immediate focus on discovering what caused the mass exodus. A survey of employees found that many left because either their expectations were not met or they did not like their boss. "The first challenge was to change the way our department was involved in the hiring process," said Carson. "We screened the resumes and only presented the managers with those from the best applicants for the job." There has also been a renewed focus on training. For example there is now a management training program that helps identify employees who would not be happy in certain positions and teaches managers how to hire for retention. Other changes involved a shift in teller hiring and training. Instead of limiting itself to hiring individuals with teller experience SCCU looks at skills such as an ability to handle cash and enjoying dealing with the public. The teller training now goes beyond just learning about the "credit union way" but teaching computer skills and how to do a transaction. At the end of the course, teller trainees have to take a grueling exam, which is both written, and practical/interactive. "It takes a few hours to complete the written, then we provide them about 100 envelopes with different transactions that they actually have to run," said Carson. "That way on their first day of work at the branch there is no need to shadow the teller, etc. because he or she knows how to drop the drawer." Other training programs involve understanding how a product or different departments are related, that way the employee does not just say "I need to cross-sell this" but can connect the dots on why this particular product will be helpful says Carson. The efforts have paid off. SCCU turnover has dropped from 62% in 1998, to 39% in 1999, 31% in 2000, 17% in 2001 and this year has reached a low of 13%. "But in looking at who is leaving every month we've found that generally those employees are the ones who really needed to go," said Carson. "They are not leaving because of unmet expectations but rather because of their performance." As for the employee perception of managers, Carson says it has really improved. In 2000, managers who achieved 100% retention rates totaled 2 but last year there were 11. Portland Teachers Credit Union has been recognized by Oregon Business Magazine as "The 100 Best" companies to work for three years in a row by following President/CEO Cliff Dias' philosophy "that in the end our business is about people." According to Marketing Services Manager Sarah Lott that commitment to people comes through from policy and the human resources department, to the way mangers are encouraged to interact with their staff. The $1.2 billion credit union offers such employee benefits as being instantly vested in the 401 k with a 5% match and a 5% retirement plan match; covering all employee medical and dental costs; paying benefits to employees who work a minimum of 20 hours; providing a Gainshare program, which is a discretionary cash bonus paid quarterly depending on the success of the credit union; and a free Working Solutions Family Assistance service, which provides information on a variety of issues including elderly care and day care. "In addition to our programs, which are really generous in our area," said Lott. "I think our constant communications within and between departments, managers, etc. and respect for individual contribution is what helps our people feel valued." [email protected]</p>

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