Community building, talent retention and job growth are the hallmarks of 504ward: New Orleans Calling, a program in which the Human Resources Management Association of Greater New Orleans (HRMA)
chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) takes a leading role.
In 2009, HRMA’s leadership in 504ward (a play on the city’s area code) garnered it a SHRM Pinnacle Award, the second one in as many years for the New Orleans chapter. The Pinnacle Awards program is an annual recognition program honoring the highest achievements in affiliate development and contributions that enhance the development of effective HR management. Each winning affiliate receives a $1,000 grant.
A core part of HRMA’s mission is “Rebuilding our Community,” which ties into 504ward, a citywide initiative to retain the young people who moved to New Orleans to assist with rebuilding and recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. 504ward is a partnership of groups such as HRMA, GNO Inc. (a regional economic development organization), Urban League-New Orleans, WorkNOLA (a private, nonprofit, free area job board) and the Social Entrepreneurs of New Orleans that has created a database of nearly 3,000 professionals ages 24 to 34. HRMA’s key role is to help this talent—called “504s”—form personal and professional connections and to help them establish local careers through mentoring, workshops and networking events.
“Through 504ward, HRMA is actively working to retain these valuable community assets,” said Ron Zornes, SPHR, president of HRMA. “Once these young people complete their work with Teach for America, charter schools, Habitat for Humanity or other nonprofit groups, we want to create that bridge to full-time local employment. Our members, as business leaders, recruiters and connectors, can expose this demographic to businesses.”
Other Chapter Initiatives
HRMA achieves this goal through a variety of initiatives:
Advising entrepreneurs. HRMA participated in the 504ward $100,000 Business Competition, which was created to support entrepreneurial ventures in New Orleans and funded through a private donation. The winner, Lavonzell Nicholson, received the money plus another $100,000 worth of in-kind services, including a donation of an HR audit and plan from HRMA. Nicholson’s winning idea was playNOLA Social Sports and Entertainment Group, an adult recreational sports league that encourages fitness and networking among young professionals.
“HRMA helped me understand employment regulations and recruitment strategies and helped me write job descriptions and an employee handbook,” Nicholson said. “It helped me fast-track a lot of things that entrepreneurs struggle with in the beginning because they don’t have resources like HRMA. I check back in with them for guidance and clarification as my business evolves.”
Facilitating connections. HRMA members participate in 504Connect, an initiative to connect young talent one-on-one with leaders in the community. Every six months, a new crop of 180 young professionals is connected with a business leader and meet for coffee or communicate via e-mail. This program matches the young person with the established professional in their interested profession or industry to help them create a network.
Barbara Johnson, principal of The Johnson Group, a consulting firm in New Orleans, coordinates HRMA volunteers for the 504Connect program. She opened her home for the annual Dine Around event, which invited 240 504s to the homes of 10 business leaders one night for dinner to connect with each other and leaders. “The young professionals are extremely appreciative of the guidance,” Johnson said. “The 504s are tech-savvy and know social media and online job boards, but they need to be encouraged to get face to face with decision-makers in the community.”
Sponsoring workshops. HRMA holds networking receptions and workshops about resume writing and interviewing skills as well as how to find a job in New Orleans. “Because the 504s have graduated college, they don’t have the resources of a college career counseling center, so these workshops fill that void,” said Zornes, director of corporate operations at Canal Barge, a marine transportation company in New Orleans. A recent 125-capacity event sold out quickly, and HRMA is looking to hold similar events soon.
Pitching to employers. HRMA helped 504ward create a 15-minute “pitch” to give to the employer community. Businesses that are hiring and need access to this demographic of young, professional talent have responded well to the presentations, Zornes said. 504ward was completing a survey of 504s to get demographic data, education and work backgrounds that HRMA will use to encourage employers to connect with this labor pool.
“HRMA members tell me they are excited about 504ward and appreciative of the exposure to this talent,” Zornes said. “Many people realize the value to them in helping their community but also the business value of connecting their employers to a large pool of talent.”
Adrienne Fox is a freelance business writer in Alexandria, Va., and former managing editor of HR Magazine.