HAMPDEN, Maine — In 2011 it appears unlikely credit unions will be doing much hiring.

That is the message from Robert Carmichael, who carries the lengthy title of SVP of HR, training, compliance and IT for $219-million Maine Savings FCU. Carmichael, who also sits on the executive committee of the CUNA Human Resources/Training and Development Council, told Credit Union Journal CUs must maintain as much efficiency as possible in operations in the year ahead.

"And from a human resources perspective that means remaining as lean as possible while still providing the best possible member service," he said.

Another issue facing CUs as the calendar turns is efficiency in training, which Carmichael said extends into choosing the best training media and "using technology as much as possible."

A third area that will be important is employee engagement, he continued. Carmichael said CUs need to keep their employees engaged with the credit union and its values.

"In the workforce today it is necessary to have professional development for supervisors and give recognition to employees to make sure everyone sees how they fit into the organization. Turnover costs money, so it is important to keep good employees and keep them motivated. The CUNA Councils enable credit unions to use best practices and not have to reinvent the wheel."

Carmichael believes shrinking bottom lines over the last 18 months are impacting training as credit unions spend more time dealing with compliance.

"Regulations continue to evolve, especially in lending, so we have to look for the most efficient ways to do that. We need to train more frequently, because regulations are changing. I don't expect too many new major regulations this year, but we are continuing to deal with all the regulations that came down last year."

To realize efficiency in their branches, Carmichael urged CUs to examine appropriate staffing models. He noted there are many tools available to help ensure there is the "right" number of employees and that sufficient staff is in place at the appropriate times.

"Human resource information systems are used by many credit unions to manage employee data, benefits and other tasks, and automation can be very useful in making the process more efficient. A recessionary environment forces all organizations, not just credit unions, to become more efficient. Hopefully, this means as the economy recovers and we grow again we will grow in the right way."

Another focus in the coming year will be the increasing cost of medical benefits. He said Maine Savings FCU has been looking for "creative" methods to meet this need by using health savings accounts, plus using wellness programs to engage employees and get them thinking about health, fitness and diet.

"We have an ongoing wellness program that we continue to grow and develop, and we want to motivate employees to take care of their health."

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