The Achilles’ heel: talent attraction and retention


It is imperative for politicians and economic development officers who crow about “bringing jobs” to West Michigan to cease the false bravado and address the enormous elephant in the room: talent attraction and retention.

This oft-cited Business Journal analysis is given new perspective by example of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who last week began twisting legislative arms for a $7-million national marketing campaign to attract workers to the state where 13,000 workers are needed (and not available) just for the jobs being created by Foxconn Technology Group, a deal Walker brokered with $3 billion in tax incentives. According to the Associated Press reports, Wisconsin has worker shortages amounting to 45,000 in seven years, across all industries. Reuters reported last week that Moody’s Investor Service dropped the credit rating for Racine County, the site of the new plant, citing the debt burden after authorization of financial incentives.

Grand Valley State University Seidman College of Business researchers have put Michigan’s deficit at 80,000 in the same period. Most of that shortage is exacerbated by deficiencies in educational attainment. Business Leaders for Michigan research shows the state ranks 31st among all U.S. states. The executive group has moved education issues to the front burner of priorities.

Business Journal reporting provides a pause to applaud a program to alleviate the shortages currently obstructing the skilled trades industry. Associated Builders and Contractors Western Michigan Chapter partnered with the Literacy Center of West Michigan to provide training for refugees through a Michigan Office of New Americans (MONA) grant. The collaboration provides job training for students in the English as a Second Language program. ABC/WMC Vice President of Workforce Development Jen Schottke told the Business Journal, “West Michigan has a large population of new Americans seeking work, and we thought this partnership would provide promising opportunities for both these individuals and our local construction employers.”

Another report provides an example of retention of employees. Business Intelligence Associates (BIA), an e-discovery firm that has an office in Portage with 20 employees, conducted a deep dive study to retain an employee who needed personal time for a family emergency, after exhausting time available. After looking for pathways within often-strict employee/labor laws, BIA found the answer by way of a company that created a PTO donation program. The employee was able to take several more weeks without having to go on unemployment, disability or other assistance.

Employers must use such out-of-the-box initiatives to stay ahead of the worker shortage tsunami. Politicians and economic development officers must do so, too. The problem isn’t more jobs, it is educational attainment and worker shortages.

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