5 Hiring and Retention Lessons from Industry Experts

December 8, 2021
Checkr Editor

During the COVID-19 pandemic, companies across industries experienced challenges to hiring and retaining workers. In particular, the ride-sharing and last-mile delivery segments including companies like Lyft and Uber faced major roadblocks to hiring drivers combined with an exponential demand for services. 

Pandemic-related court closures created delays in onboarding the driver workforce while nationwide shut downs forced consumers in their homes, opting for deliveries on their daily goods. In the last 20 months, demand for drivers and gig economy workers has exploded. In 2020, 36% of Americans identified as gig workers. By 2021, that number went up to 43%. Today, 66% of companies are using freelance or contract workers. 

How did the biggest gig employers handle these hiring and retention challenges? How do they balance safety with scaling? This year at Checkr Forward, experts from some of the largest gig companies—Aaron Hageman, CEO and President at Delivery Drivers Inc, Alix Rosenthal, VP Compliance at Lyft, and Erin Novak, Senior Counsel, Safety at Uber—came together for a panel keynote, offering insight and advice on the problems they’ve faced and how they plan to solve obstacles in the future.

Whether you represent a small or large company, these leaders offer wisdom you can take back to your own organization. Let’s dive into some key takeaways from this engaging session. 

1. Leverage technology and automation to improve hiring and retention

It’s no surprise last-mile delivery exploded in 2021, bringing with it the constant need to hire. When the world shut down, gig companies looked to technology to streamline processes and speed up hiring. “We’re always looking to automate the onboarding process as much as possible,” said Alix Rosenthal, Lyft. 

But court closures caused delays in onboarding, creating friction for candidates and hiring managers. Uber’s Erin Novak stated, “Courts ground to a halt, which means a lot for background checks. You’re relying on criminal background checks that require the courts to move forward and also the folks who work in those buildings to get the public records required for those screenings.” This friction was felt by all of our panelists. 

It remains imperative to educate candidates and stakeholders alike on the background check process and why court closures slow down onboarding. Novak continued,  “A lot of the time I’m the lawyer explaining to the business, for example, why a background check takes two weeks. There’s a lot of explaining to do when it comes to court-assisted background checks and how the process really works.” Keeping relevant parties informed on the reasons why onboarding may be delayed can help businesses manage hiring expectations. 

The silver lining? Strong technology partners help companies build streamlined onboarding processes to move business along. Aaron Hageman from Delivery Drivers Inc (DDI) spoke about leveraging technology to keep up with the massive growth DDI experienced during the pandemic.  “To do the volume [of background checks] that we do at DDI, it’s more than just automation, it’s really integration…. My challenge to the audience is that—big or small—Checkr is a great partner because the tools are out there.” 

2. Focus on fair chance hiring to widen candidate pools 

To improve hiring and retention, each of the panelists prioritize fair chance talent. Fair and diverse hiring is critical both for company culture and the bottom line. Overwhelmingly, the experts emphasized the importance of understanding how people of color are disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system. In unique ways, each panelist is working to combat hiring inequities. 

With tough regulations facing the driving economy,  there’s a balance between safety and fairness that’s always evolving. Rosenthal shared: “My team is always looking at ways that we can harmonize fair chance principles, racial equity, and our own safety concerns to make sure that our background checks don‘t exacerbate the inequities of the criminal justice system.”   

The solution lies in the fine print, ensuring you stay compliant while discovering ways to open the hiring funnel to a more representative pool of candidates. For example, Novak spoke about the fair chance conversations happening at Uber, “Just because someone has what we call a ‘crime of circumstance’, like resisting arrest, or something that might be disproportionately affecting the population of color, we want to look at that differently than we would something we would consider to be a violent or sexual offense.” 

How can your business start applying fair chance hiring? Hageman offers,  “Start internally… Make it a cultural issue, that if you really believe in why we would look at fair chance hiring and second chance hiring pools, beyond the business benefits, it’s been very important for us to start with that internally for our employment pool and our hiring practices…” Forming an internal team of fair chance hiring champions, educating stakeholders on the benefits, and building processes to open your hiring funnel to fair chance talent not only widens candidate pools, it also has a positive social impact. 

3. Prioritize employee experience and safety 

Employee experience and profitability are synonymous. Investing in employee experience and in the case of the panelists, driver experience, is key to finding success through the pandemic and beyond. Rosenthal emphasized, “…[We are] spending on the driver experience because they are critical to our success.”

Hageman echoed that sentiment when he said,  “We’ve simply found that improving the driver experience has a direct impact on profitability…When we think profitability we think workers first, drivers first.” Optimizing the driver experience is key to maintaining a healthy business. 

The pandemic brought safety concerns to the forefront for all employees. At Uber, conversations turned to creating a safe environment for both drivers and riders.  “Our conversations have really been about safety and using safety to bring people back to the platform,” stated Novak.

4. Maintain a learning mentality 

As the economy reopens and recovers, many companies face ongoing challenges with hiring and retention. Rosenthal stressed the importance of continued learning for business resilience: “That is the single best piece of advice I can give to a smaller company: always be learning, always be dedicated to the learning process. It’s not about pointing fingers and figuring out who’s wrong or who made the mistake, it’s about actually getting into the weeds of why the mistake happened—which requires a certain amount of humility.” 

Hageman drilled down on this point when he spoke about growing worker expectations. He urged companies to, “Challenge yourself, because the bar is being raised.” The pandemic changed the world of work, and in order to compete in hiring and retention, leaders need to constantly be learning as well as adapting processes. 

5. Never compromise on safety and compliance 

One thing our panelists all agreed on: You simply cannot compromise on safety. Balancing safety and hiring at scale can be difficult, but you must prioritize compliance. Hageman said, “When the court closures happened, and it was slowed down, we had to begin to proactively work in front of that.” He continued, “The answer leans on technology, we can make sure by leaning on our tech that applicants don’t get through the pipeline without making sure we satisfy and check all the boxes.”

In the absence of speed, the panelists leveraged technology and transparency to maintain a positive driver onboarding experience. While they each faced challenges to hiring and retention, they always found ways to advance business without sacrificing safety. Novak shared, “Think about compliance early. A lot of companies are kind of burned, not because they have bad policies and practices, but because they’re not documented in a meaningful way.” Successful organizations never compromise on safety.

Lessons for 2022 and beyond

Last-mile delivery and ride-sharing companies faced varied challenges to hiring and retention in 2020 and 2021.  Whether working with a background check partner to streamline the onboarding process or continually checking in with stakeholders around hiring and safety, these leaders remind us of the importance of resilience and agility in the face of adversity. 

Download the keynote now to hear more tangible takeaways from the experts, including:

  • How the experts managed acquisitions
  • Thoughts on the future of the contingent workforce
  • How to handle the complexities of international background screenings

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