The county’s top 3 employers on the Happy Valley HR advantage


By Holly Riddle 

As HappyValley Industry has covered, recruiting and retaining top talent to work in Happy Valley is a unique task. On one hand, the region is not immune to statewide and nationwide recruiting and retention trends. On the other, Happy Valley enjoys advantages that many other regions do not.

As we hear time and time again, any time we interview HR professionals, the area’s vast resources (including Penn State and ample opportunities for anyone with an entrepreneurial slant), as well as its tendency to provide work-life balance and a blend of small-town charm and big-city amenities, all add up to make hiring a bit easier.

Most recent challenges include post-pandemic issues, like employee expectations for remote work and flexible scheduling. With the pandemic in most companies’ rear-view mirrors, what does the talent recruiting and retention landscape look like in Happy Valley?

We spoke to three of the county’s top 10 employers — Mount Nittany Health, the State College Area School District (SCASD) and Geisinger — to find out.

A changing workforce

All three of the interviewees we spoke with cited similar challenges in recruiting and retaining talent in 2023.

At Geisinger, which employees a total of 26,000 individuals, Kristi Cellitti, associate vice president of recruitment, said that one particular challenge she sees is “changes in demographics,” with healthcare workers aging out of or deciding to leave the industry, followed by younger generations “looking for flexibility, including the autonomy to choose when, where and how they work.”

Our better-than-average combination of wages, benefits, appreciation bonuses, PTO and work environment are having an impact on people’s career decisions

She added, “There has been tremendous market movement, both regionally and nationally, with a number of our critical-to-recruit roles. The market movement is beyond compensation; it also includes the desire to seek employment opportunities that provide flexible schedules and remote work, among others. Coming out of the pandemic, a number of healthcare professionals have expressed experiencing burnout, placing a stronger emphasis on work-life balance. As such, healthcare professionals are seeking employment opportunities close to their families and support systems.”

Jennifer Johnson, human resources manager at SCASD, noted the challenge of fewer educators entering the industry, both statewide and nationwide.

“Fewer people are going into education and there are people that are currently in education that are leaving education,” she said. “In education as a whole, across the nation, it is becoming difficult to find qualified candidates. I would say, because we live in Happy Valley, we haven't quite felt some of the problems that some of the larger city areas have felt, but, nonetheless, some [roles] are becoming difficult to fill.”

The change is a generational one. In 2010–2011, the Pennsylvania Department of Education issued more than 21.000 teaching certificates; comparatively, in 2019–2020, the department issued just under 7,000 certificates.

She continued, “We’re very fortunate because we’re one of the top-paying school districts in this area, so we’re able to find candidates, whether they’re straight out of school or coming from other school districts.”

At Mount Nittany Health, Michael Fry, director of talent acquisition and compensation, likewise mentioned a shrinking talent pool for certain roles; however, he also mentioned the many ways that Mount Nittany Health strives to attract and retain top talent, with impressive results.

“Our better-than-average combination of wages, benefits, appreciation bonuses, PTO and work environment are having an impact on people’s career decisions. More so than elsewhere, employees are choosing to work at Mount Nittany Health and are recommending it to others. Our results speak for themselves,” he said. “The current vacancy rate is about half the national average, and it’s not merely a result of an influx of new faces — Mount Nittany Health’s average tenure of 8.4 years is virtually unchanged since pre-Covid.”

The Happy Valley advantage

Luckily, the consistent perks of working in Happy Valley continue to help HR and recruitment professionals attract valuable talent to the region.

Happy Valley naturally attracts people…

Cellitti noted that Geisinger candidates are “attracted to the allure of residing in a university town that offers amenities, entertainment, shopping and access to an airport, all at a reasonable cost of living.”

She added, “The surrounding area, with its picturesque landscapes and community-oriented atmosphere, offers a desirable quality of life. This, combined with the [Geisinger’s] focus on work-life balance, makes relocating for a position at Geisinger an appealing prospect for top talent seeking a fulfilling career and a supportive community.”

Fry mentioned much the same, saying, “The Centre region is a great place to live and work. Centre County is ranked as the 2nd healthiest county in the state, and there are many wonderful natural spaces to walk, hike, cycle and more. It's a great place to spend time outdoors, which helps improve your physical and mental health. We also benefit from living so close to a major university that offers educational programming, events and artistic performances.”

“Our staff and medical providers truly become part of the community,” he added.

For talent that SCASD attracts from beyond the region or out of state, Johnson agreed that the area is an “easy sell.”

She said, “Happy Valley naturally attracts people…You have a lot of things right at your fingertips…It’s a nice area to raise a family and have a really good work-life balance. You’re not spending two hours in the car going five miles like you would in some cities.”

Looking forward to 2024

Looking to 2024, HR professionals in the region are looking to further use Happy Valley’s benefits to their recruiting advantage, while also evolving to meet existing needs and a new generation’s expectations.

At Geisinger, Cellitti mentions continuing to shift to more remote work where possible, allowing the organization to hire from a broader talent pool without being limited by geography. Additionally, the organization plans to continue to emphasize work-life balance and flexible schedules and working arrangements, initiatives that she calls “crucial” for attracting top talent.

For Fry, one of his focuses in 2024 is recognizing that candidates are now focused on finding an employer whose values align with their own. For Mount Nittany Health, showing talent that the organization is one that truly cares about its community is an important part of the recruitment process.

Acknowledging the talent shortage in education, Johnson and her team at SCASD are taking an internal approach to recruiting, identifying individuals in current support staff positions who might be good candidates for teaching, and then assisting them in their further career development.

“We’re trying to look within and ask, ‘Who can we mentor and who can we move into positions that are difficult to fill?’” she described.

What has been your experience recruiting and retaining talent in 2023? How do you plan to adjust to changing talent needs in 2024? Let us know.


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