The Matchmaker

Recruiters play an integral role in workforce development & Career Professionals’ owner Roni Synder is among the best in the business

WINK takes a look at the behind-the-scenes efforts of recruiters, individuals who become so familiar with local companies and their staffing needs they can locate a potential candidate with just a click of a computer mouse or a brief phone introduction. Their knowledge extends past the front doors of industry to the offices and workstations that fuel the local workforce economy.

We met up with Veronica ‘Roni’ Snyder, who has been a successful industrial matchmaker across the East Tennessee region for 20 years.

She works out of a renovated house near the hospital district of Morristown, an inviting space that she shares with her CEO (canine executive officer) Bailey, a golden doodle. Most of her recruiting work is done in the digital world, but her efforts with workforce and nonprofit organizations keep her in touch with the local goings-on.

Recruiting in general was a bit different in 2019, Snyder said.

“It’s been a strange year, she said. “There are job openings, and you can find people for those job openings, but the obstacle this year has been (and I have talked to other recruiters) if I get a candidate a job offer, they turn in their notice to their current employer and – this year, more than any other in my 20 years – their current employers say, ‘no, no, don’t leave me’ and they make substantial counter offers. It’s easier for those companies to pay those employees more than to go find replacements.

“The other thing I’ve run into this year is that if I find good candidate, they are not only looking at my opportunity, they are looking at three, four or five opportunities. And in the end, when they are looking at job offers, it may not be the one I generate for them that they wind up accepting. So we go back to square one and have to start the search again.”

Companies are reporting increased numbers of ‘no-shows’ for interviews, as well as candidates who accepted positions but then didn’t report for their first day.

“It’s just because of where we are, counteroffers are more prevalent. They will have a lot of options when considering making a job change,” Snyder said.

The positives include the eight or nine industries in Hamblen County that are expanding, bringing in new equipment or adding manufacturing space. One of the negatives is the effect of tariffs and how that has put a wrinkle in manufacturing.

“It’s been a very unpredictable, unsteady year, just because manufacturing – and the economy overall – likes stability, and it’s been very hard to get any sort of solid footing this year. It’s been an okay year, it’s just not been a banner year,” Snyder said.

A large number of calls and emails to Snyder’s office have been regarding bus manufacturer Van Hool; the company has not yet announced an official date for breaking ground on its site in the East Tennessee Progress Center, but a common ‘guesstimate’ is sometime in the spring.

Snyder’s work is centralized on salaried positions in manufacturing: plant management, accounting, human resources, purchasing, quality, along with a level above, the ‘corporate folks.’ Local salaries range from $80,000 to $150,000.

The communication between recruiter and candidate is rarely face-to-face. Connections are made through social media sites or research, followed up with some in-depth phone conversations that cover the candidate’s technical background, career history, interest in new job opportunities and motivation.

“You do this enough over the years, you get pretty adept at reading and getting a feel for people. The companies I’ve worked with, my clients, I’ve worked with them long enough to have a good feel for the type of person that will fit with them, that personality side. You’re able to get good, long-term matches.

“It really helps to know the company and the culture you’re working with. Engineers for instance. They love manufacturing and they’re passionate about it. They get excited when they tell you about a project they’re doing or how they figured something out, or something they created; and you feel that energy and that excitement. And you know there are plants out there where this guy would fit perfectly because the engineering manager who looks for these types of qualities.

Conversely, there are engineers who prefer a quiet consistency. It’s in the way I present him to companies: he’s a technical thinker, he’s not going to be this gregarious guy.”

She earned a Master’s degree in psychology — “Not because I knew what career it would get me into, but I just thought the classes were cool. Lo and behold, in the recruiting career, I use the degree every day. You hope to do everybody good, but sometimes you miss. The career picks you; every recruiter that I know fell into it, Snyder said.

In 1999, she was hired by Jim Belaart, who trained her in the art of recruiting. She had previously worked in the temporary help industry. Five years later, Belaart retired from the business and offered it to Snyder and co-worker, Steve Taylor. The two were owner partners until Taylor retired in 2014.

“Steve and I were good friends. We were very equal partners. I have so much respect for him. We emailed this morning. He’s just a genuinely good person. I couldn’t have picked a better mentor,” Snyder said.

Snyder confirmed that, yes, people really do want to move to the area.

“You can recruit people to East Tennessee pretty easily,” she said. “If you have a person who lives in East Tennessee, and you are talking to them about a job elsewhere, you can’t blast them out of East Tennessee. Because cost of living is good, quality of life is good, the weather is good. And folks who have any sort of affection for the outdoors, there is so much to do around here and such a nice pace of life. So many people who have ‘stopped here’ for three years or so with a company will circle back to the Morristown area when they are thinking about retiring, along with the Dandridge area.”

She lives in West Hamblen County and walks often at Panther Creek State Park. The overlook is the final stop for her recruiting tours. Taylor, who recruited for a local hospital at one time, taught her the trick. Many physician contracts were signed on the trunk of his car up at the overlook, Snyder said.

She loves her career, but is not a workaholic. She likes to travel and has taken spontaneous trips to places like Vermont, Washington D.C. and Yellowstone; a few years back, she spent three weeks in Italy.

Her work with nonprofits, like the United Way of Hamblen County and Girls Inc. and as a newly-named board member of Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare System, in addition to previous roles with the Morristown Area of Commerce, give her a balanced view of the county. Her introduction to the Chamber was as a member of the 2000 leadership class, she later served on Chamber committees and as Chamber chairman, a role she considered an honor and one that from a business standpoint, gave her credibility among her peers and potential clients.

Her roles at the Chamber and on the Morristown Industrial Development Board, where she still serves, led to a better understanding of the cooperation among the influencers of the area, including R. Jack Fishman, industrial board chairman.

“You begin to understand the impact Jack Fishman has made on the community, the numbers of families he’s fed because of companies he’s recruited. I have a lot of respect for him. A community is nothing more than who lives there and makes it up. But there’s usually one driving force who has the vision, the initiative to see what it could be. If he hadn’t come 50 or 60 years ago and said as an industrial recruiting tool, ‘Let’s go to Germany, let’s go to Japan,’ where would we be? Thank goodness we had him. He’s left a big imprint.”

Through her work with the IDB, Snyder saw firsthand the cooperation needed for large projects, including the upcoming TCAT expansion.

“The hoops to jump through, the phone calls – that’s a continual process,” Snyder said. “There are so many things here because of Jack: the road systems, TCAT, WSCC, three industrial parks. There is a lot of power in one, if that one is willing to put in the work and the action and the effort.”

The challenge among recruiters across the country is the impending need of qualified employees.

“So the interesting thing about Morristown being a fairly small community, in the grand scheme of things, is we started tackling that workforce development thing about seven years ago. So when companies like Van Hool, or other companies that are looking for a community to build a factory in, they look at what we’re doing workforce-wise and we are light years ahead of other communities because we have an excellent county mayor, we have an excellent city mayor, we’ve got a school superintendent, a Walters State president and a TCAT president that are all working together. There are no turf wars, there are collaborative conversations: it’s people working together.

“You see that a lot of the behind-the-scenes, mundane work is what makes a big difference in the direction this community takes. I wish people understood that. It’s very easy for people to be negative, especially on social media, but to me, by being involved in the extra stuff, it’s the positive people who get involved, and you get a different feel. Throwing out ideas is better than just sitting around complaining.”

The novel approaches to workforce development in the community include the 100-plus high school students participating in internships with area companies, an effort led by Hamblen County Schools CTE Supervisor Chuck Carter.

“Everyone is rowing in the same direction; not many communities do that,” Snyder said, adding that the effort really began when in 2011, newly-elected Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain was challenged by Fishman to “get it rolling.”

“We’re doing everything we can do as a community to set us up long-term to make sure all these companies have what they need, work-wise,” Snyder said.

As for her office workforce, Bailey has made up for the absence of Taylor. The 85-pound CEO came from a litter of 11, the last remaining pup hoping for a “furever” home. He popped up on the breeder’s website wearing the same necktie featured in an original painting that hangs in Snyder’s office, created by local artist Mike Sandlock who serves in an administrative role with the company.

He was predicted to be a smaller size CEO, in all honesty; both Snyder and her gray and white cat, Gabby, have adapted, although even two-plus years later, “She still doesn’t understand the ‘why’ of it,” Snyder said.

Bailey has a designated spot at Snyder’s desk; there’s a stylish baby gate at the office door and he is vigilant at letting her know when someone ventures down the sidewalk in front. It’s fitting that Bailey required a bit of workforce training, or direction, as Snyder describes it.

“We don’t have a lot of foot traffic here, but he would go nose-to-nose, literally, with people,” she said.

They tried a group class, but were recommended to a one-one-one trainer who included visits to Tractor Supply as part of the work.

“He’s a great dog, but I had to admit, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing,’” Snyder said.

The front porch of the office building provides a quiet spot, from time to time, to share a beverage with friends and watch the world go by for a few minutes.

“I hope to be here another 20 years,” Snyder said. “Where did that time go?”