Deepen the talent pool to avoid local pilfering

March 12, 2012
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Sure signs of spring: rain, flowers, potholes and hiring. While the first three are staples of seasonal change, it’s the latter that has many West Michigan HR professionals gnashing their teeth.

Today’s Focus section turns the spotlight on the “war” for talent locally, and what some companies are trying to do to attract — and retain — skilled workers.

Recently, 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 seeing potential profits erode for lack of success.

Cynthia Kay, of Cynthia Kay & Co., recently attended a White House gathering at which employment for small businesses was the main topic of discussion. When asked how many employers had openings, Kay said the dozen or so Michigan participants almost universally raised their hands. When asked for a show of hands by those having difficulty filling those positions, a similar number kept their hands in the air.

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.

One answer, of course, is to deepen the talent pool.

Some companies, like Amway and Fifth Third Bank, are trying to fill their worker pipeline by giving current employees more internal training opportunities. Others are starting the search for qualified candidates earlier and then trying to keep those candidates interested until a suitable position opens.

Gov. Rick Snyder acknowledged the worrisome situation and focused on matching the unemployed to available jobs and, more importantly, he is attempting to bridge the training gap through community college and employer links.

State initiatives are too little and too late, however, and it will be up to West Michigan companies to find their own solutions. One glimmer of hope is organizations such as Hello West Michigan that try to attract a talent pool for all companies by simultaneously touting the region’s quality-of-life appeal.

Enticing more talent to move here and providing more training to those already here both are laudable endeavors. The alternative that’s starting to show here — thieving talent from other West Michigan companies — is not.

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