Economic Development and Human Resources

Finding a place for ‘trailing spouses’

Hello West Michigan connects uprooted families to jobs, volunteer opportunities and friends.

December 2, 2016
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Trailing spouses
Networking events that feature a variety of employers often cater to the spouses of professionals who have moved to West Michigan for job opportunities. Courtesy Hello West Michigan

One of the challenges facing West Michigan when it comes to talent acquisition is how to secure workers who have spouses or partners who also need employment in the area.

A number of area businesses have seen the difficulty and are taking action.

Hello West Michigan, founded in 2010, is a nonprofit organization that helps its members recruit and retain talent by making sure new residents find their fit in the community.

A big part of that mission is about helping significant others — sometimes called “trailing spouses — and families of employees find good schools, volunteer opportunities, networking events and jobs.

Cindy Brown, executive director of Hello West Michigan, said her company is about being a starting point.

“We provide information on everything from school districts to census data to lifestyle resources,” she said. “Whatever they’re looking for, we ask them about what needs they have.”

Brown said the first step she has prospective residents take is to submit a résumé through the Hello West Michigan website. The company will initiate a conversation and begin connecting them with potential employers and members of Hello West Michigan, such as Meijer, Haworth, Spectrum and Bissell.

“We find out what types of jobs they’re looking for,” Brown said. “Then we send that list out to over 500 HR reps in the area. We send it out to members, then to other employers in the region that aren’t members and aren’t funding us. We say here’s the person, they are moving in December and they are looking for software development opportunities.

“Then we try to get them connected as much as we can, because they want to be here and we want them here.”

Brown said her company often will connect prospective residents with Grand Rapids Public Schools, Kent Intermediate School District and other school districts in West Michigan. If they want to get to know Grand Rapids, Brown connects them with the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and “other affinity groups” like it.

But the spouse’s path from moving into the area to getting a job isn’t always a smooth one.

Olivier Tulliez, originally from France, moved to West Michigan when his wife, from Hong Kong, got a job at Amway as a business compliance and rules supervisor for the Northern China region.

“It took me quite a while to find a job, about 18 months,” Tulliez said. “I believed I had good experience in my discipline, was well educated and had involvement in different European markets. I thought my background was good enough to find many opportunities, but I was mistaken. I found the business community was very tight, and I didn’t have the kind of connections I needed to make a go of it.”

So Tulliez, who linked up with Hello West Michigan early in the process, began a gradual shift in his job-hunting mindset.

“It came down to relationships and being connected to the right people,” he said. “I found in West Michigan, people would give you a shot if they knew more about you. My references were all in Europe, and people didn’t know them.”

Tulliez said he began attending networking events, such as Hello West Michigan’s Rethink West Michigan, which is where he met recruiters from X-Rite.

Now, for the past two months, he has worked at X-Rite as a marketing campaign manager.

“It was a little bit stressful, but it was a positive experience when I did break into the business community,” he said.

On the other side of the equation, businesses see helping the trailing partners as a vital part of helping their companies grow.

Eric Miller, senior talent acquisition consultant at Van Andel Institute, which is a Hello West Michigan member, said he has watched a lot of married or dating scientists move to the region together when one of them gets a job at VAI.

“If we want one (scientist), we typically have to make room for two,” he said, “sometimes within our agency, but other times, we’ll have to work with St. Mary’s, Spectrum Health, etc., to see if they want to hire anybody.”

Many times, Miller and Brown said traditional assumptions are challenged regarding who the breadwinner is and who gets to move the family.

“The female significant others represent about 60 percent, and that means 40 percent are male,” Brown said.

Miller said the numbers of male “trailing spouses” are high at VAI, as well.

“Most of the time lately, we’re assisting the husbands with work opportunities,” he said. “I know that the majority in the last six to eight months has been assisting husbands with finding employment in the Grand Rapids area.”

He said making sure the spouses/partners get connected in the community and have the chance to make friendships is every bit as vital as connecting them to a job.

“We have services that their sole activity is to connect individuals,” Miller said. “Like, for instance, 616 Development has networking events where they connect the people in their buildings with one another.”

Miller said many of the VAI scientists are coming from other countries, so having solid programs in place to help them also helps build diversity in West Michigan.

“We have a lot of foreign nationals who come in, and we connect them with resources in the community,” he said. “Helping (the trailing spouses) opens the door to bringing in diverse individuals and building relationships between companies in the community. It helps bring innovation and different types of workers.”

Brown said the trend of trailing spouses is expected to grow.

“The numbers we use by the Upjohn Institute say that by 2025, 33 percent of the population working here will be from outside the area,” she said. “Whatever we can do to help connect families from West Michigan will really help. Families will only be happy if their significant other finds their place here in the region.”

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