At Dairyland Power Cooperative, as is the case with other electric cooperatives nationwide, the days of résumés rolling in for job vacancies are over.

The Wisconsin generation and transmission co-op is going all-in on revamping its recruitment strategy—including branding itself as a “people-first” employer, leveraging social media to enhance job posts and hiring headhunters, “an almost foreign concept to us a few years ago,” said Elizabeth Ressie, director of safety and human resources.

“Instead of a passive approach where we wait for candidates to come to us, we are actively engaging in recruitment across several fronts,” she said.

Longer searches for skilled employees to work on an increasingly complex grid along with upcoming retirements—about one-third of the G&T’s 475 workers will be eligible for retirement in the next five to 10 years—are some of the reasons behind the take-charge approach at the La Crosse-based power supplier.

“We want to make sure that we have a diverse pool of candidates, those with different backgrounds, education and skills. So, we need to do things differently to ensure we’re able to accomplish that,” Ressie said.

Recently, the G&T experienced a good news/bad news scenario when it hired an instrument technician and apprentice at its Alma-based plant after its longest-ever search—10 months, compared to 40-45 days in past years. But then another worker retired, starting the cycle anew, Ressie said.

Job recruiters have helped the G&T fill “highly specialized” positions, including an electrical engineer and deputy general counsel, with remote workers in other parts of the country.

“This is a nationwide trend based on new opportunities for a productive work-life balance,” said Katie Thomson, manager of strategic communications. “We had conversations about flexible workplaces and the more modernized hiring technique before the pandemic, but [the public health crisis] helped shepherd through IT and culture actions that have helped that process happen a little quicker.”

At Dairyland, hybrid work schedules for non-union employees are now permanent: Employees can work up to 50% of their time from home and have options for compressed workweek schedules, such as four 10-hour days per week or four nine-hour days and one four-hour day.

The “flex program” has been an effective recruitment and retention tool, Ressie said.

“I’ve spoken to a number of employees who said the No. 1 factor in accepting an offer from Dairyland was its flexible workplace,” she said. “And I’ve also spoken to employees who were cold-called and offered jobs by other organizations but turned them down because they just couldn’t compete.”

The G&T is also providing professional growth and development opportunities for current employees through its Leadership Academy. “Our workers are our greatest assets, and we want to make sure we are listening to them” through regular focus groups, Thomson said.

Employees have responded in kind. Favorable ratings helped the G&T earn “Great Place to Work” certification last year based on results from a poll on workplace culture and employee experience. The G&T is leveraging that distinction in its branding efforts for a competitive edge.

“The best part about being ‘a great place to work’ is we became certified because of the voices of our employees,” Ressie said. “That just speaks leaps and bounds about our organization and how employees are treated here.”