February 18, 2010

Now Hiring

Elizabeth Bush  /  Daniel Island News

A spirited courtship is underway and new relationships are on the verge of blooming. But Valentine's Day has nothing to do with it. Call it more of a smart and efficient "e-harmony" or "match.com" for businesses.

Those with similar interests and talents are finding each other thanks to a promising new initiative dubbed "Charleston Works." The project is intended to, among other things, enhance recruitment efforts for knowledge-based jobs in the Lowcountry by matching employers in need of help with highly skilled professional and technical job seekers.

"In 2001, when we launched the (Charleston) Digital Corridor, people said it couldn't be done, that we couldn't build a knowledge economy," said Ernest Andrade, director of the Charleston Business Development Office. "Well, not only did we prove in a short period of time that it can be done, but now we're ramping up the game. This is just reflective of the great need we have to grow a knowledge economy."

The new effort was recently launched by the Charleston Business Development Office in collaboration with a number of local technology companies, including eThority, PeopleMatter, Telogical Systems, Life Cycle Engineering, Monolith Software and Blackbaud. The initial components of Charleston Works include promotion of regional career opportunities at college job fairs and an employer-only resource portal. But the primary driver of the project is a new Web site (www.charlestonworks.com) that features a list of more than 150 companies, links to human resources pages for job openings (about 30 percent are currently hiring) and other key resources. Visitors to the site will even have an opportunity to map their commutes to potential jobs.

"The bottom line is attracting and retaining top talent in Charleston and utilizing our networks as high growth technology companies to really support one another," said Erin Scheffer, director of human resources for eThority.

"When I started five or six years ago, I had no clue what I was doing or who I needed," said Bruce Belvin, principal at Monolith Software Solutions. "In looking for local people, we're a small start-up, we couldn't afford to go recruit out of state and in big cities, or use an agency at all. We had to figure out internally who we needed...I think Charleston Works is a formal wrapper around a process that's been evolving over the last several years."

"CharlestonWorks.com offers something that has been missing; a clean and simple solution for discovering knowledge-based companies and their career opportunities, in the Charleston area," said Joe Keith, talent acquisition manager at Blackbaud. "Creating awareness of what Charleston offers is critical to attracting talent and this site will help."

"I interview a lot of people," added Scheffer, who formerly worked for Blackbaud. "I don't hire most of them, but I want to give them options...to have something that is consolidated, a portal that is kind of a one-stop-shop...and to be a data source...I'm giving these folks the tool. This is it. This is what I've been waiting for for a long time. To encourage folks, whether they are a fit for me or not...this is absolutely a pinnacle to the strategy for a growing company."

And while that does create competition for participating businesses as companies vie for some of the same candidates, it's not something Scheffer is worried about.

"It's about joining forces versus being against one another," she said. "Yes, there's competition, and maybe I'll lose a candidate to another company, but (I'd) rather them stay here and have options if something goes awry at another company...so (he or she) doesn't have to leave Charleston."

"The biggest piece is bringing the totality of what we have to offer as a city and a community and attract those folks," added Winston Helena, staff recruiter for Life Cycle Engineering.

That "staying power" was indeed a big motivational factor for those creating Charleston Works. The effort is as much about promoting jobs as it is about selling Charleston.

"When you ask people from away about Charleston, the face lights up," added Andrade. "The fact that they vacation here, the fact that they stopped here, the fact that they came here for a meeting...they just absolutely loved it. But they don't tend to think of Charleston as an emerging technology destination."

Andrade said the group is even considering a special "Night On Us" promotion that would reimburse qualified job candidates for their hotel stay and a meal while visiting the city for interviews.

"I firmly believe that the growth of the (companies) is fast outswimming their abilities to manage their own recruiting efforts," Andrade said. "So whatever we can do to complement that effort to get more people looking at Charleston, looking at these companies, the more we can help them."

"It's expensive to relocate people," added Scheffer. "So the idea is to get them here, and keep them here."

Once they're here, the Charleston Works community is poised to help them live happily ever after.