Training, recruitment issues reach calamity proportions

January 9, 2012
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One year ago the Business Journal noted here the pending catastrophe for employers who would be adding workers as recession issues eased and the economy improved. The poster child was Zeeland-based Gentex, where hundreds of technology jobs were unfilled despite aggressive and relentless recruiting. Gentex remains in the midst of an increasingly crucial talent hunt, even as other area companies attempt to find workers. Herman Miller, Steelcase, Amway and Lacks Industries are just a few of the companies working overtime to find skilled workers, but meanwhile see potential profits erode for lack of success.

Many area employers seem oblivious to the facts of this debilitating issue, and even more worrisome is that employers associations and the regional manufacturers association indicate business owners are lackadaisical in planning for it. The Business Journal underscores a report by The Employers’ Association that it will be a 10- to 20-year drought, based on a number of factors, but especially education and skilled training. All agencies report it is a crisis for West Michigan because employers often wait until the last minute to make the decision to hire, and many are unwilling to invest in training or to assist in educating workers to improve the odds.

Gov. Rick Snyder last month acknowledged the worrisome situation and focused on matching the unemployed to available jobs and, more importantly, is attempting to bridge the training gap through community college and employer links. That program is most immediately assisting companies such as Fortu in Muskegon, now counting the days to full operations. Snyder also is focusing on Michigan veterans, who suffer a disproportionate unemployment rate: The rates reported at year end for November saw Michigan’s rate drop to 8.4, and that of the Grand Rapids-Wyoming metro area was measured at 6.5. Among veterans, however, that rate stood at more than 15 percent, a situation addressed late last year by a consortium of companies, including Cascade Engineering.

State initiatives are too little and too late, which Snyder may certainly address during his State of the State speech, anticipated in the next two weeks. Further, the Michigan state agencies assigned to confront the issue in new ways are concentrating in the Detroit area, not West Michigan.

A “boot camp” on initiatives and the growing problem is planned for lakeshore companies in February. It is not too early to sound the sirens in Kent County and create similar initiatives. In fact, it is likely too late.

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