Arizona faces a teacher shortage, so that makes filling positions in Maricopa County’s early education programs especially difficult. Even with hiring bonuses, many positions sat vacant. One such position was a mental health associate position that has been vacant for two years. Without teachers to fill positions, Head Start classrooms cannot operate, meaning lost opportunities for low-income families for essential early childhood education and family support. The challenge posed to the Communications Manager of the Human Services Communication team was to develop a strategic marketing plan to address teacher and staff recruitment challenges and, as the staffing became available, increase student and family enrollment. Maricopa County's Human Services Communication Manager developed and implemented an innovative strategic digital marketing plan to boost enrollment in the Head Start program and fill hard-to-find positions. The approach transformed the use of the county’s website from an informational site into a digital recruitment tool and provided a model that was later adopted for use in other recruitment campaigns for other hard-to-fill positions.
The program targeted challenging positions, such as a position requiring specific certifications that had been vacant for two years, as well as responding to the teacher shortage in Arizona. The approach resulted in over 10 qualified applicants within three weeks for the challenging position (that has been filled ever since), and more than 25 qualified applicants being recruited.
The successful approach has been shared with the County's Human Resources department and applied to other departments, including healthcare workers for the County's correctional system and veterinarians for the Maricopa County Animal Control program.
Need Addressed by the Program
A mental health associate position that supports low-income families in the Maricopa County Head Start early education program was vacant for two years. Teaching and support positions for the Head Start program were also going unfilled. The challenge in finding qualified candidates for these positions essentially meant lost potential for access to these Head Start services for eligible low-income families.
The problem of recruiting and filling hard-to-find positions posed a significant challenge for Maricopa County's Head Start program. In addition, the County’s existing web page for applying for positions did not provide the necessary visibility and marketing to highlight the importance of the teacher, mental health, and educational support workers. The lack of qualified candidates for these positions meant that the program could not operate to its fullest potential, leading to lost opportunities for low-income families who rely on the Head Start program. However, the innovative approach developed by the Communications Manager proved successful in attracting more qualified candidates and filling the vacant positions, ultimately ensuring compliance with federal requirements and increasing enrollment in the program.
The challenge posed for the Communications Manager of the Human Services Communication team was to develop a strategic marketing plan to address teacher and staff recruitment challenges and, as the staffing became available, increase student and family enrollment. Using her background and experience as a marketing professor, the Communications Manager developed a comprehensive strategic digital marketing plan to address the need for a digital transformation for the staff and student/family recruitment. The plan leveraged the existing County website as the backbone but transformed its use (through the lens of this program) from an information tool to a recruiting tool that serves as the hub of the digital marketing approach.
Objectives of the Program
The primary objective of Maricopa County's Head Start recruitment and enrollment program was to fill hard-to-find positions, such as teachers, mental health associates, and educational support workers. The program also aimed to increase enrollment in the Head Start program commensurate with the increases in teaching and support staff.
Time Frame for Development and Implementation
The strategy was first developed and deployed in January 2022 and is still in active use today. The Strategy will continue to guide these activities through Fiscal Year 2024 (June 2025). Implementation of the strategy draws on the contributions and talents of a wide variety of Communications professionals as well as subject matter experts in the Maricopa County Early Education Division.
The program's target audience was qualified candidates for hard-to-fill positions, including teachers, mental health associates, and educational support workers. The program also targeted low-income families who rely on the Head Start program for early childhood education and family support.
County’s Role in Implementing the Program
Implementation of the approach that transformed the recruitment efforts into a digital marketing approach draws on a project team with a variety of talents and expertise.
To transform the use of the county's website from an informational site to a digital recruitment tool, with dedicated landing pages for each position and comprehensive marketing materials and video content involved the following project team:
- Advertising Placements: Communications Manager, Advertising Agency
- Content Creation: Communications Manager, Graphic Designer, Early Education Assistant Director, Early Education Staff
- Marketing Collateral: Communications Manager, Graphic Designer, Early Education Assistant Director, Early Education Staff
- Organic Social Media Content: Communications Manager, Graphic Designer
- Strategic Plan Development: Communications Manager
- Video Content Development: Communications Manager, Senior Public Information Officer, Video Specialist, Early Education Assistant Director, Early Education Staff, Parent Partners
- Website Transformation: Communications Manager, Digital Content Developer, Graphic Designer
Impact of the Program
The impact of the program was immediate and significant. Within the first three weeks of implementation, over 10 qualified applicants were recruited for a challenging position that had been vacant for two years, and more than 25 qualified applicants were recruited in total. The hard-to-fill position was filled within the first month of the deployment of the recruitment program. The person remains in the position today- approximately one year later. Teaching and support positions were also filled bringing down the vacancy rate and allowing more classrooms to operate – bringing more no-cost early education and family support services to low-income families in Maricopa County. This success allowed the Head Start program to operate at its fullest potential, providing essential early childhood education and family support to low-income families.
The program's impact was not limited to the Head Start program. As word spread of this innovative approach to recruitment, other professionals applied it to other departments with hard-to-fill positions, including healthcare workers for the County's correctional system and veterinarians for the Maricopa County Animal Control program.
Maricopa County's Head Start recruitment and enrollment program addressed a significant challenge in finding qualified candidates for hard-to-fill positions and increasing enrollment in the Head Start program. The innovative approach developed by the Human Services Communication team transformed the county's website into a digital recruitment tool, with dedicated landing pages for each position and comprehensive marketing materials. The program's success allowed the Head Start program to operate at its fullest potential, providing essential early childhood education and family support to low-income families. The program's impact was not limited to the Head Start program, as its innovative approach to recruitment and enrollment was shared with other county departments, providing a model for other recruitment campaigns.
Responding to Economic Downturn
This digital marketing approach to early education staff and family recruitment helps Maricopa County respond to the economic downturn in a few ways:
- Education for Children: With the current economic downturn, many families in Maricopa County are struggling to make ends meet. This may mean that some families cannot afford to send their children to preschool or other enrichment programs that provide essential learning and social training for kindergarten readiness. Access to the no-cost, high-quality early education program Head Start is an important part of early childhood development and equity in education for children from low-income families. Having enough staff to provide opportunities for these children is imperative to allow these children and their families to thrive. The program helps to level the playing field for these children, providing them with the same opportunities as children from more affluent families, and providing children with the foundation they need to succeed academically and professionally in the future.
- Jobs for Teachers: The program also provides opportunities for people to work in public service, which is an essential component of economic recovery. By matching individuals with rewarding jobs in public service, the program provides not only employment opportunities but also a sense of purpose and fulfillment, which can be critical during challenging times. The robust Arizona State Retirement System also helps employees save money for a more secure retirement, setting the, up for financial stability.
- Childcare for Parents: Having reliable, no-cost, and effective childcare is an essential component of the success of working families. Without access to childcare, many parents are unable to work or attend school. They may miss out on opportunities for career advancement, furthering their economic disadvantages. Head Start not only provides extended hours of no-cost care for children ages birth to five years old, but the program’s foundation also provides additional family support to address any support needs a family may have. This can include health screenings for children, help with clothing, assistance with rent, food, and transportation for the family as well as connection to a variety of other programs for employment. The Head Start program is a crucial component of recovery from the economic downturn to ensure that low-income families have access to no-cost childcare for their children, enabling them to work or attend college without worrying about the safety and education of their children.
By ensuring adequate staffing for the Maricopa County Head Start program, children can thrive, families can take advantage of opportunities to work and further their education, and qualified teachers and support staff have access to a career field that provides rewarding experiences and sets up a secure financial future. This collaborative digital marketing effort has been instrumental in providing connections to the program for staff and families and serves as a model for other areas facing similar economic challenges.
Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
The digital marketing approach developed by Maricopa County's Human Services Communication team to address teacher and staff recruitment challenges for the Head Start program also advances diversity, equity, and inclusion priorities within the county by addressing existing racial and socioeconomic disparities.
Head Start program provides equitable access to no-cost, high-quality early education for children from low-income families, which helps to level the playing field and reduce educational disparities. By ensuring adequate staffing for the program, more low-income children can benefit from these essential educational opportunities.
Facilitating access to reliable, no-cost, and effective childcare for working families is essential for addressing existing racial and socioeconomic disparities. Without access to childcare, many parents are unable to work or attend school, which can lead to further economic disadvantages. The Head Start program not only provides extended hours of no-cost care for children ages birth to five years old but also provides additional family support to address any support needs a family may have to promote economic equity and reduce disparities.
The digital marketing approach to address teacher and staff recruitment challenges for the Head Start program advances diversity, equity, and inclusion priorities within the county by addressing existing racial and socioeconomic disparities.
The Maricopa County Human Services Communication team successfully developed and executed a strategic digital marketing plan and website optimization program without incurring any additional costs. All marketing collateral, including organic social media content and graphics, was created using existing staffing, equipment, software, and resources. Some video content was created in-house with existing staff and resources and some were created through an advertising agency with a budget of $8,000.
While digital ads were an optional component of this strategy, they were allocated a budget of $7,000 for the first year and were placed on Google, Facebook, and Instagram. It is important to note that any county looking to replicate this program should consider its in-house communication capabilities. If the necessary skillsets exist in-house, the core strategy can be implemented at no cost through the use of organic social media. Although adding a budget for paid digital ads would widen the available audience, it would not impact the development of the strategy and its various assets.
Results/Success of the Program
The Maricopa County Human Services Communication team's strategic plan has achieved exceptional success in meeting its objectives of increasing Head Start program enrollment and filling hard-to-fill positions. Through the creation of dedicated landing pages and the implementation of a comprehensive digital marketing plan, the team has modernized its recruitment approach for both students and staff, resulting in increased enrollment and successful recruitment.
The campaign's effectiveness can be measured by the rapid increase in the number of qualified applicants for hard-to-fill positions, including a position that had remained vacant for over two years, which was filled within four weeks of the campaign's launch. The team utilized a targeted landing page with a vanity URL that focused on the specific requirements of the position and extended this approach to other job openings, notably teachers, in response to Arizona's teacher shortage. The landing page allowed targeted social media campaigns, and referrals, and showcased various videos highlighting the comprehensive support services and professional development available. As a result, the number of job openings was reduced from over 30 to just 11 at the start of the fiscal year.
The recruitment tools were shared with the County's Human Resources department, leading to increased attendance at job fairs and a marked rise in applications from qualified applicants. This approach was unprecedented in Maricopa County before the Communications Manager introduced it to the Office of Communications.
The program has also been highly successful in increasing Head Start program enrollment, as the dedicated web page at www.Maricopa.gov/HeadStart provided prospective families with valuable information about the program's benefits and expectations before applying for enrollment. The online availability of the parent handbook in English and Spanish at any time further streamlined the onboarding process. The recruitment videos featuring parent testimonials and ad lengths in English and Spanish received favorable feedback from prospective families, contributing to the increase in enrollment. The videos showcasing colleagues at events where teachers could shop for their classrooms using county-provided funding were also well-received.
The program's success has boosted staff morale by filling hard-to-fill positions and complying with federal program requirements, allowing staff members to focus on providing high-quality services to students and families. The innovative approach to recruitment has demonstrated the County's commitment to modernization and digital tools. The team's creation of dedicated landing pages and digital marketing campaigns has provided staff members with a sense of pride in their work and the organization they serve. Overall, the program's success has energized staff members by showcasing the County's ability to overcome challenges through collaboration, innovation, and a commitment to excellence.
The Maricopa County Human Services Communication team's strategic plan to increase enrollment in the Head Start program and recruit hard-to-fill positions had several exciting outcomes.
The program is innovative in its approach to recruitment by utilizing the county's government website as a recruitment tool for hard-to-fill positions. By creating dedicated landing pages and implementing a comprehensive digital marketing plan, the program modernized its approach to recruitment for students and staff.
The program achieved significant success in meeting its objectives, including filling a hard-to-fill position that had been vacant for over two years and reducing staff openings from over 30 to 11 at the beginning of the fiscal year. The program's success is further demonstrated by the increase in attendance and applications at job fairs, as well as the boost in staff morale.
Finally, the program's impact goes beyond its immediate objectives, as it addresses the critical issue of teacher shortages in Arizona and provides support services and professional development opportunities for staff.