While the fiscal cliff is a new issue causing some companies to delay adding full-time workers, many businesses are singing a familiar tune regarding their staffing plans and what’s affecting the West Michigan job market.
As the year comes to a close, many of the same issues from the start of the year still persist and probably will continue to plague companies’ plans for some time, sources said.
For a report earlier in March, several sources told MiBiz an increasing skills gap and continually extended long-term unemployment benefits have kept people from coming back to work — and have companies struggling to find the proper talent.
While they say not much has changed, staffing agency executives are seeing some positive signs, namely that more businesses started offering paid training and tuition reimbursement for those workers who want to show up everyday to a good, well-paid job.
“A lot of people are saying there is a skills gap, but the biggest issue is getting people who want to show up,” said Kim Fettig, president of Fettig, a local staffing agency formerly known as Ameritemp Staffing that specializes in advanced manufacturing and light industrial sectors.
Locally, the executives point to the Ready Now initiative, which started at Lakeshore Advantage and the local Michigan Works! agency and spread to other areas of the state, as one of several successful efforts to close the gap between applicants and employers.
“There is difficulty in trying to hand-pick people, but at the same time you just can’t throw 30 people out onto a production floor and expect it to work out,” said Fettig, who also serves on the workforce development board that oversees Kent and Allegan Michigan Works! offices.
Participants in the weeklong event over the summer had the opportunity to attend workshops on team building, resume writing and career exploration and to participate in mock interviews. Those who completed the requirements from the session received a certificate of completion and garnered a guaranteed interview with two participating companies.
The list of employers included ADAC Automotive, Proos Manufacturing, Lacks Enterprises and a handful of other manufactures and staffing agencies.
While many companies are outsourcing their human resources functions as a matter of reducing overhead, job-seekers need to shake off the negative stigmas that are associated with staffing or “temp” agencies, Fettig said.
A lot of businesses can’t spend the time searching for the right people to fill positions, so using staffing agencies to identify qualified job seekers is just slowly becoming the new normal, he said.
More importantly, the jobs that are going unfilled right now aren’t the typical “temp” jobs, and those getting placed have a good chance of turning that job into a full-time career, he added.
For the types of vocational, high-skill and advanced manufacturing jobs out there, “this is just the way hiring happens now,” Fettig said.
“The politically correct thing to say is there is a skills gap, and yet customers say to me, ‘Give me someone who will show up, word hard and come back the next day,’” he said. “They just beg for it.”
Still, there is no discounting the number of workers moving toward retirement age each day. On top of that, with high schools stopping or unable to offer trades programs, the pool to back-fill those positions is dwindling. Community colleges and others are scrambling to build programs in skills employers need and to find students.
“We’re all working to fill this issue,” Fettig said. “What we need to do is continue to develop a good medium to communicate the issues.”
Talent 2025, an organization of more than 60 CEOs from 13 West Michigan counties, is stepping in to try to illuminate and to offer solutions to the talent gap in the region. Companies involved include Amway Corp., Haworth Inc., Trans-Matic Manufacturing Inc., Herman Miller Inc. and Spectrum Health.
The organization has established working groups to help inform best practices in the talent development system. The CEOs of the participating companies co-chair the work groups, which focus on early childhood development, K-12 education, college and workforce readiness, post-secondary education, adult workforce development, and employer practices and entrepreneurship. The goal: to help inform best practices in the talent development system.
More recently, the organization has focused on initiatives that work to integrate more veterans in the workforce.
“We’ve been quite busy convening employers, higher education institutions and veterans organizations to address the unemployment rate among recent veterans,” said Kevin Stotts, director of Talent 2025. “Early childhood education is another very active area for us.”
From preschool to kindergarten, Stotts said many children in West Michigan are under-prepared for learning in school. According to the metrics gathered by Talent 2025, between 30 percent and 60 percent of children entering kindergarten are not ready, Stotts said.
A major contribution to that number is the approximately 40,000 children statewide who can’t find placement in a preschool.
Getting employers and the state on board to bulk up the funding to programs that support education is one of the most important objectives that will get more people ready for careers, Stotts said.
“These are huge issues,” he said. “You can’t align K-12 and higher education with employers in 6 months or 12 months. But we continue to convene stakeholders and getting them to buy in toward post-secondary education across the region is a goal everyone recognizes as valid.”
Previously, Stotts said there is an issue of perception that has to be overcome around education. Every one is aware of it and everyone is talking about it, but it hasn’t reached the general public in a way that explains what that alignment means to future job seekers, he said.
“Communities have to have specific community-based strategies because the dynamics across the region are different and have different needs,” Stotts said. “I think they are starting to recognize the role they can play.”
For Battle Creek-based EmploymentGroup Inc., 2011 was record year which saw the company place 1,384 workers into primarily advanced manufacturing positions. However, the rate of placements has slowed so far this year.
“Hiring has slowed down,” said Mark Lancaster, president of the Employment Group. “Manufacturing has been flat or steady over the last few months, which we all know is a big driver for our market.”
With uncertainty in Washington over the fiscal cliff, Lancaster said he thinks many employers are just biding their time, hoping that the Congress can figure out a solution.
Still, Lancaster said he’s buoyed by companies’ willingness to offer workers support through training programs and other institutions like Kalamazoo Valley Community College.
“The strength of West Michigan is banking on the training programs and partnerships from the state and businesses,” he said. “Otherwise, we’re not going to fix the gap.”