For 10 years, Chalker Group has been recruiting top talent to Birmingham. Time and again, as they introduce prospective recruits to the Magic City, the out-of-towners are amazed at all the city has to offer.
And Chalker capitalizes on the amazement — helping the recruits find not just the perfect job for themselves, but also the right school for their children, the right niche in the city’s array of cultural opportunities and the best job prospects for the recruit’s spouse.
Brewton native Barbara Burton, who spent much of her adult life in New York and London before returning to Alabama, started Chalker Group to bring talent to the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“In 2013, we started Chalker Group at my kitchen table, a group of us discussing impactful ways we could connect with individuals considering a move to Birmingham,” she says. “As we grew and moved into office space, we kept that same sentiment of gathering around the table to work collaboratively.”
Since the firm was founded, Chalker Group has experienced intentional and meaningful growth. In mid-2022, Burton tapped team members Walton Foster and Jen Dent to become managing partners of the firm. As their leadership roles grew, Burton was able to step back from day-to-day operations, continuing in her role as community leader and well-connected advocate.
In August 2023, Foster and Dent became Chalker Group co-owners and co-presidents, with a commitment to growing the team and the services they offer. Burton remains a key advocate and counsel.
Chalker Group is tackling a recruiting problem that has its roots both in sociology and the pandemic.
As Gen Z moves through the workforce and Baby Boomers retire, the employment pool is shrinking. It is estimated there will be a sizeable gap in the labor market over the next 15 years as more employees retire while fewer enter full-time positions. COVID-19 also presented huge challenges to the labor market, as employees could decide when, where and how they worked. Going to an office every day from 9 to 5 became something of an outdated concept. What life looked like outside of work became even more important. Helping employees find those connections could mean the difference in whether they accepted a new job offer or even stayed in a current role.
A LIFE, NOT JUST A JOB
What Burton connected with in her initial work was something employees and employers wrestle with: having a job versus having a life. Outside of that 9 to 5 scenario, what will an employee’s life look like? How will they feel engaged? Moreover, what are the needs of the employee’s family — does the trailing spouse require assistance in securing work? If there are children, what are their needs?
In other words, there is so much more to consider than merely filling a role with a qualified candidate. Employers must make sure they not only hire the right person but also that employees feel engaged and secure in their community.
Dr. Anupam Agarwal, senior vice president for medicine and dean of the UAB Heersink School of Medicine, says the Chalker Group has been “critical” in recruiting talent to the school.
“They have been instrumental in providing recruits, their spouses and families a great perspective about not only UAB but also the wonderful opportunities, social life and other vibrant activities in Birmingham and our neighborhoods,” Agarwal says.
Foster, Dent and the team take a collaborative approach to every recruitment. Bi-weekly staff meetings are filled with conversations on past and upcoming recruitments and the resources the team will engage to make each visit impactful.
Historically, the talent Chalker works with are C-Suite-level executives, but they identified a need to expand to a broad range of highly skilled, targeted roles. A panoply of religious, cultural and extracurricular backgrounds often presents themselves, allowing the team to go deep with connections.
“The starting point with every recruit is to explore what defines ‘home’ for them. Their needs and interests are diverse and wide-ranging. Having spent the past decade working with hundreds of recruits, we know how to create an experience that removes the fear of the unknown and allows them to visualize their life in Birmingham,” says Foster.
Among Chalker Group’s clients is Southern Research, the biotech organization in Birmingham. “Chalker Group leaves no detail to chance and they make sure our candidates, employees and their families experience Birmingham in ways that are tailored to their individual needs,” says Southern Research CEO and President Josh Carpenter.
Chalker Group says its work has a ripple effect in the community.
For example, a family with a rising high-school senior was considering moving across the country for the recruit to accept a key role at UAB. With only a month before school started, the family needed to select a specific school system where their son would finish his schooling — a decision that would dictate their real estate choices as well.
Via Zoom, Chalker members connected the 17-year-old with students at various area high schools — public and private — so that he might get to know the tenor of each option. He ultimately chose Homewood High School. As the son thrived, the recruit dove headlong into his fertility work at UAB. Within his first year in the position, he was able to assist five couples in conceiving.
Chalker also works to help a recruit’s spouse find meaningful employment in Birmingham.
In addition to working with incoming recruits, Dent and Foster realized there were companies with new hires not feeling fully engaged, outside of work. This type of employee is most at risk of leaving a company, costing the employer thousands to fill that vacancy again.
The duo conceived a program, Chalker Concierge, to address these needs. Dent says, “Chalker’s concierge program provides individualized solutions to meet an employee’s specific needs, resulting in an employee feeling seen and valued outside of their professional life.”
Carpenter says the retention program has helped Southern Research. “In addition to their regular suite of strategic recruiting offerings, which have yielded excellent hires for us, Chalker Group partnered with us to craft an innovative solution for retention that connects recent hires to the Birmingham community,” he says. “This Chalker Concierge program also affords us another way to … demonstrate how we value each person at Southern Research.”
Foster is pleased to hear that their work seems to be effective.
“Chalker Group is truly moving the needle in the hiring process,” she says. “Candidates who might never have considered making the Magic City their home are seeing what is possible here — as an employee and as community members. Our work is changing the business landscape in Birmingham.”
Christiana Roussel and Art Meripol are Birmingham-based freelance contributors to Business Alabama.
This article appears in the January 2024 issue of Business Alabama.