Recruiting doesn’t have to be a headache, writes Rachel Smith. Here are four tips for finding good staff—and three for keeping them.
Your practice is growing. More clients are coming through the door with their pets; you’re working longer hours. It’s time to hire good staff to help you. Where do you start? What do you pay, and what do you look for?
“Most vets need people who are good communicators, competent with medicine and surgery and who work well in a team,” explains Mark Eagleton, vet and owner of Vetlink, an employment agency connecting vets with graduates, experienced vets, locum vets, nurses and other staff.
“Not everything that happens in a veterinary clinic is particularly pleasant, so you want someone who’s very down to earth and can get in, be nice to clients and be productive. If they happen to have other skills, that’s great, but the basics is essentially where the demand is.”
Should you hire graduate vets?
Dr Peter Higgins, vet and lecturer at Sydney Vet School, says yes. “There’s this idea that you should stay away from new graduates for two years because they’ll make mistakes, but I don’t agree. Graduates are up on the latest technology. They’re the most highly trained in surgical techniques. And while they might not have that experience yet, they’ve seen specialist surgeons perform them. I’m a vet myself, and I encourage vets to employ new graduates, as I’d do if I was in private practice.”
Dr Higgins also gives his graduates a crash course in job-seeking with a series of compulsory lectures—and the university holds career days. “We might bring in a specialist horse or cattle vet or a vet who works mainly with cats. These vets give the students an honest picture of what they can expect, so they’re prepared. We also tell our students not just to send their CV, but turn up at the practice and meet the vet.”
Finding good staff: here are four ways
1. Meet graduates face to face—If networking’s your bag, head to Sydney University’s annual conference, Partners in Veterinary Education, in September. “It’s designed to bring vets and students together, and there’s a social element as well with a semi-formal dinner,” says Dr Higgins. “So that’s one way students can connect with potential employers.”
2. Find out if a university near your practice will advertise your job—Many unis are happy to connect vets and graduates informally, says Dr Higgins. “We can put jobs on the student Facebook page or the alumni veterinary page to help connect vets with graduates or former students looking for work.”
3. Pop an ad on SEEK, LinkedIn or a specialist veterinary jobs site—
A cost-effective option if you want to be hands-on (it costs $275 on SEEK and $190 on VetPetJobs.com.au for a 30-day listing). If you need advice on writing an ad or salary expectations, Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) members have access to the HR Hotline and HR Technical Resources, which are an up-to-the-minute reference guide to human resources for veterinary practices.
4. Engage a veterinary recruiter—“When you’re hiring a vet, there are only ever a small number of applicants,” says Eagleton, “which is where an employment agency can help, because we get to know the practice well and we can be a real advocate for a job or a practice. We also have a ‘no placement, no fee’ type situation, so we’ll advertise and hunt for candidates and put them in front of the client, but the fee is only payable if they employ that person.” Contact Vetlink for more info and placement fees, which vary.
Vet shortage: truth and fiction
If you’ve ever recruited before, you’ll know it can be tough finding staff you need—and although there’s a belief in the industry that there’s an oversupply of vets, Eagleton thinks it’s not justified.
“There’s a severe shortage of vets with two or more years’ experience and in new graduates, there are pockets of oversupply in places such as Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. But it’s still hard to get a small animal job filled in a country area because people don’t want to go rural—it’s been the same problem forever. Most people these days want to stay in the big centres. If you’re rural and recruiting for a vet, you need a very well-organised recruitment process as it can take time.”
You’ll get more candidates recruiting for veterinary nurses, he adds, but it can be a challenge finding the right person. “Most veterinary nurses do a Certificate IV at TAFE or the University of QLD has a vet tech course, similar to a vet nursing qualification but not exactly the same,” he explains. “My advice would be to sift through applicants carefully to find those who are suitably experienced and qualified.”
What do candidates look for in employers?
Recruiting in a candidate-short market means it’s important to show what a great employer you are and your practice is a great place to work.
“Candidates are looking for a nice work environment with a modern, well-equipped multi-vet business,” explains Eagleton. “They want reasonable working conditions. They tend to avoid sole-charge type roles. They tend to avoid jobs where there’s after-hours work.
“So practices where there’s an after-hours referral service nearby have a distinct advantage, which is almost the norm these days. They’re also looking for practices that have a reputation for being a good employer.”
How do you retain staff?
It’s the million-dollar question—and Eagleton’s advice is simple: keep your staff engaged.
“If you have a disengaged member of staff, they’re very expensive,” he explains “If you’re paying them $100,000, it’s costly if they’re just chugging away at half pace—and then there’s the income they’re not generating. An engaged member of staff is happy, productive, wants to be there—and is more easily retained.”
Changing things up in the practice so it’s not the same year in year out helps keep staff feel as if they’re learning and growing. Getting new equipment can help too.
If you buy an ultrasound machine, for example, you train staff to become competent with ultrasonography. And you need to communicate well and often and realise the process doesn’t finish as soon as the contract’s signed, adds Eagleton.
“Many people might spend a lot of time and money on hiring someone then sort of shove them in a consult room or leave them to it—but if you want them to stick around you have to take an active interest in that person, check in regularly,” he says. “For many candidates, a good relationship with their boss is everything.”