In France, the preferred field to plow was often the university and post-university demographic. The recruits, when identified, would usually be asked to start as volunteers with perhaps just expenses paid. They used a similar system even with their sister organization in their global work. In both cases, sometimes the first stints could lead to paid staff positions. With the French tradition of labor laws and multi-year contracts, the organization with great frankness and transparency about its own situation, offered what they somewhat euphemistically referred to as a “moral” contract, guaranteeing one full-year of pay and a second year of work through eligibility and provision of the public benefit and unemployment payment system.
So much of this was reminiscent of the early years of ACORN, where at one time we had staff positions dedicated to combing the campuses for potential hires and in newer projects like our expansions into labor organizing, staff would often go on-and-off unemployment regularly while we struggled to stabilize the work and the resources. In France, I often have to pull myself back from over identifying my old days with their “new” days, since so many of the problems, situations, and decisions are so similar.
In England, where a large number of the staff has experience in the Big Society community organizing program, of course new recruits are regularly solicited from that pool. In Birmingham, where are moving in a different direction the referrals are coming from what labor economists call “job networks,” people who know people.
When asked at one point about where I preferred to hire, I found myself answering that my choices tended towards men and women with life and work experience, whether political or not, rather than students. No doubt this comes from my own experience and perhaps increased bias towards hiring diverse, constituency organizers with strengths and skills that will endure over the long term rather than hoping to convert talented high flyers into marathon runners. I remember being told a rule of thumb when starting in the work that people could easily hire five years older or younger, but not outside that range usually. Sometimes that’s true, I suppose, but in some ways that’s another way of saying that people tend to hire people like themselves. It actually takes some discipline and distance to be open to hiring in a way that looks for gold in all of the hills, but we likely have to work harder to do just that if we want to sustain our organizations over generations. It keeps the work more exciting and innovative at the same time, which is a nice dividend.