Rapid Blog: Cindy Brown on how talent attraction is more than billboards

Cindy Brown serves as Vice President of Talent Initiatives at The Right Place and collaborates with other talent related organizations to address regional talent pipeline challenges. Cindy worked jointly as Executive Director for Hello West Michigan and Vice President of Talent Initiatives for The Right Place for many years before stepping into her role for The Right Place full time. Under Cindy’s leadership, Hello West Michigan's membership, programming, and regional awareness grew exponentially, helping establish West Michigan as a destination for top talent. This essay is her own and does not reflect the views of Rapid Growth Media or its parent company, Issue Media Group.
In this Rapid Blog, Cindy Brown, Vice President of Talent Initiatives at The Right Place, explores the complexity of talent attraction in West Michigan.
Sit down for a conversation with any business person in West Michigan and the talk will inevitably drift toward talent — why there isn’t enough of it, where to find it, how to court new workers to the area, and why so many of our youth leave. When asked to lay out their greatest challenges, business executives across West Michigan almost always cite a shortage of workers as a top concern. They’re largely correct, with the unemployment rate hovering under four percent and a surging economy, there are simply not enough workers to fill employers’ facilities and offices. 

The circumstances leading up to the so-called “talent crisis” are complex and we as a business community have gone past the era of easy solutions. Wage increases and lining neighboring states’ highways with inviting billboards touting the virtues of West Michigan are simply no longer enough. To beat the talent challenge, we need to go beyond the obvious, dig down into our region, as well as our own organizations, and craft nuanced, multi-pronged solutions to the talent shortage. 

The first step is to rethink how the talent crisis affects our businesses in much more detail. Too many times, businesses generalize the challenges faced by their organization as being caused by a “talent shortage.” We as a business community need to work harder to dive deeper into the talent issue, detailing exactly which problems are caused by the lack of talent and developing creative solutions to those challenges. Issues that may be able to be solved through other means are sometimes simply chalked up to not having enough people. But, that view may be too short-sighted. The talent issue is multifaceted with numerous challenges that cannot be solved through hiring alone.

While a great deal of emphasis has been put on developing a talent pipeline, we have more work to do. Career exploration shouldn’t stop at grade 12. Just as businesses help K-12 students explore their passions and find meaningful careers, employers should treat their employees the same way. A working environment encouraging constant learning and exploration is one that will require less retraining as technology continues to evolve. 

When it comes to K-12 students, we need to help young people understand the opportunities available here in West Michigan. Budding technologists do not need to travel to the West Coast to build a meaningful career. Companies like Atomic Object, ADAC Automotive, Spectrum Health, and countless others play on the cutting edge of technology, right here in West Michigan. 

Most of all, we as the West Michigan business community need to realize that everyone has a part in solving the talent challenge, from the C-Suite to the plant floor. Beyond the nitty gritty of talent attraction, we all have a stake in promoting West Michigan to others. We need to talk about the reasons we call this region home, the hidden gems, the hole-in-the-wall restaurants — all of the culture and soul that makes West Michigan great. When people are considering moving here, too often the first words out of our mouths involve brutal winters and dreary days. Though it’s often tongue-in-cheek, we’re doing ourselves a disservice by not promoting our region every chance we get and, in the long run, hindering our ability to attract the best talent to the area. 

Solving the talent challenge will not be an easy task. It will take a collective effort entailing developing a strong pipeline of talent within our school system and encouraging our own employees to think bigger about their careers. It will also require delving deep into our own organizations to root out the true impacts of the talent shortage, and how we may mitigate those impacts through creative means. Most of all, moving past the talent challenge will require all of us to own the problem as our own and realize that we all have a role in showing the country, and world, what West Michigan has to offer. 

Photo courtesy of The Right Place.
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