Attracting and screening suitable candidates is only one part of the employment process for eyecare practice owners. ProVision details how it is helping independents find the right fit for their business, and keep employees engaged in their roles.
When independent optometry practice manager and co-owner Mrs Lisa Summers needed to employ two new optical dispensers simultaneously, it created uncertainty and placed pressure on an already busy business. It’s a tale all too familiar to independents in a hot job market, so she didn’t hesitate to call Samantha McEvoy, ProVision’s new dedicated recruitment specialist.
“We had employed an optical dispenser trainee last year under the federal government trainee subsidy program, but they decided it wasn’t for them, and a second optical dispenser wasn’t working out,” Summers, herself a qualified optical dispenser, says.
McEvoy advertised the two optical dispenser positions on offer at Insight Vision Care, the practice Summers co-owns with her brother and optometrist Mr Daniel Farrugia, in Werribee, screened applicants and provided them with a shortlist of suitable candidates.
Summers is at the coal face of an ongoing challenge facing the independent optometry scene. They’re balancing on a sharp ledge of managing people, and a business. Thankfully, her practice is part of the ProVision independent optometry network with around 450 practices. The organisation has acknowledged recruitment is a major challenge for its members, so has responded by employing in-house experts to support practices, providing relevant resources and flipping the script on the traditional hiring process.
“Samantha’s involvement was a significant time-saver, especially given we’re short staffed. It can be difficult to find time to sort through applicants, and can be exasperating when some are not relevant,” Summers says.
Practice manager Mrs Naomi Arnold at Somerville & Merrin Optometrists in Toowoomba shared a similar experience earlier in the year. The practice was seeking a new casual staff member after its other casual employee left, leaving the business short.
“We spoke with ProVision about what we require in the role, and what we require in terms of our values,” she explains.
“I thought it was handled really well on their end. They did the initial phone interviews and provided me with a report that included the questions they asked, responses they got, and their overall view of the applicant, giving them a rating to indicate how well they thought they might fit in with us. Using this information, we then decided who we would interview face-to-face.”
When hairdresser-turned-motivational speaker Ms Julie Cross spoke about resilience at ProVision’s national conference in 2022, it resonated with members who share the common challenge of staffing their practices.
“I think we could all relate,” ProVision’s people and culture manager Ms Leanne Jackson, who was in the audience, says.
“We are all juggling a million things, and we’re all feeling pressures, be it financial, personal, or work/life balance. Julie talked about leveraging opportunity to face our challenges, and we all took away some practical insights.”
ProVision is not shying away from helping members face this challenge. It is boosting its optometry recruitment efforts on their behalf, after more than half (57%) identified staff recruitment and retention as their top challenge in a recent membership survey.
Jackson says finding the right person for a role, but more crucially, for a practice, is the number one industry challenge for independents. To assist, ProVision has partnered with Australian Retailers Association (ARA), and welcomed two new referral partners, Locumly and Eyecare Recruitment, to the network.
“We now have a dedicated recruitment specialist [Samantha McEvoy], which is a new resource for members introduced in November last year,” Jackson says. “We’ve always had an in-house recruitment service for our members, but we’ve never had a dedicated resource solely focused on this support. It’s a necessary process because it’s a very competitive space in a candidate-short market. I don’t think that has changed greatly in the last four months.”
Members in regional areas face an additional challenge: a shortage of candidates..
“Generally speaking, there aren’t as many candidates and everyone knows everyone in a regional area, making it more of a challenge. Cultural fit is also arguably more important in a small team,” Jackson says.
“If a small practice in a regional location advertises a position, and a local resident applies and doesn’t get a response, that can affect the brand and the future relationship with that practice. It’s vital to make sure we keep the candidate informed throughout the process of their application, and we’re very proactive with that.”
“We create a tailored job ad that is responsive to the market needs. Candidates are looking at what’s in it for them, as far as what is on offer from a prospective employer. They’re interested in knowing; What are the benefits of the role? What are the values the employer offers and aligns their employment offering to? And what does the job involve?” Jackson says.
“This approach switches the order of a traditional job posting from an employer’s perspective of ‘this is all about us’, then ‘this is the job’ and then ‘this is what we are looking for’. It’s about attraction. We’ve done a lot of work recently to attract a greater pool of candidates, and we’ve certainly seen an uptake on that.”
Placement of job ads also has a bearing. In November 2022, ProVision was advertising a lot more retail, entry-level roles, and the highest percentage of applicants were coming from job-search engines Indeed and Jora.
“Now we’ve got a 60/40 split of skilled to unskilled entry-level roles. We’re now recruiting for optometrists and optical dispensers that may have some experience and qualifications, so we’re seeing more of an uptake from candidates through Seek, LinkedIn, and other avenues,” Jackson says.
“We’ve tried to expand our candidate reach and support our members through a rigorous screening process – candidates get a star rating based on their responses to questions as part of their online application. One-on-one interaction enables us to drill down more into what attracted them to the position, what is important for them in their next role, what values they aspire to live and work by, and we ask behavioural situational questions, too.”
She continues: “We provide a summary of how well a candidate matched the member’s job requirements, but also how well they matched from a value perspective and what they’re looking for, as far as what they’re seeking in their next job. That feeds into whether they’re the right fit, and then potentially, a more successful outcome and an opportunity for long-term employment.”
“When I started, we were definitely proactive in advertising roles, and screening, shortlisting and referring candidates, but we knew there was room to improve our processes to help our members achieve greater placement success,” she says. “For the month of February this year, for example, we’ve helped to fill 10 roles which means that the referrals are the right fit for the practice and we’re partnering with our members to guide them through the employment process, end-to-end.”
Although Jackson joined ProVision only seven months ago, she has seen a measurable improvement in practices finding the right candidate.
Through the ARA, ProVision members have access to general employment law and HR advice, which goes hand-in-glove with RecruitPro, ProVision’s in-house program launched in 2021 to help members through the employment journey.
“ProVision directly supports members through the screening and interviewing phase, and through our business coaches, and the ARA can assist with policy procedure, how to create a current employment contract, advice on how to handle difficult conversations, performance management, all the resources an employer needs during an employee’s cycle,” Jackson says.
When a practice hires a new staff member, they are introduced to ProVision’s education platform, ProLearn, where they go through an onboarding program, and can access additional educational resources at their own pace and within their working hours.
“The platform is tailored to the role, so a retail assistant has different modules as opposed to an optometrist, for example. We also have an education calendar, which offers a plethora of education topics that range from entry level up to key training for leaders within optometry practices,” Jackson says.
Jackson says there is something every month for everyone to access that complements the ProLearn platform. This helps with retention because people are learning, and they’re engaged.
As part of the company’s continuous improvement strategy, Jackson and her team are currently working on an internal initiative called ‘Wellness at Work’.
“Our goal is to roll it out to our members if it’s something they want to access or utilise within their own team,” she says.