Ottawa County employers have created more than 11,000 net new jobs in the past 22 months. Yes — 11,000 net new jobs. That is 500 jobs per month or 16 jobs per day for 22 straight months.
Today, there are 543 job postings in Holland and Zeeland alone, and this type of growth is occurring throughout the region.
This is great news. However, the rapid turnaround reveals a major constraint to our future economic growth: We are facing a near-term talent crisis that requires immediate attention.
There are four primary ways employers can add new employees:
Hire from the annual pool of high school and college graduates
We have a demographic dilemma: Will the number of high school and college graduates keep pace with those exiting the workforce? Nationally, baby boomers are reaching retirement age at a pace of 10,000 people per day. We need skilled, trained talent just to fill vacancies, let alone meet growth needs. Clearly, if we are to keep pace, we cannot accept high dropout rates and ill-prepared graduates. Thankfully, groups like Talent 2025 and Model Communities are working with education leaders to resolve the long-term talent pipeline issue.
Recruit new workers to relocate from other regions
Good jobs have historically been a magnet to attract new talent. We need to tell the world about the job opportunities available throughout West Michigan. Our chambers of commerce and the Hello West Michigan organization are assisting employers in this effort, but more work is required. Michigan continues to struggle against its Rust Belt image. We need a new narrative that recognizes West Michigan as one of the fastest-growing job markets in the country.
Hire from the ranks of the currently unemployed/underemployed
Hiring from our incumbent, unemployed workforce is an absolute necessity. With the large, immediate demand for labor, the fastest solution is to rapidly retool our existing workforce. With 33,486 people unemployed throughout West Michigan plus those underemployed, we have the people. Now we need to offer more accelerated training to make sure they have the soft and hard skills demanded by employers. Beyond skills training, our region needs to recognize the challenge of “onboarding” a new person from the ranks of the unemployed. We need to provide services to employers and job-seekers alike to ensure long-term employment success.
Relocate their business to a region that has available labor
We have been through this before. Think back to the late 1990s when the region had 3 percent unemployment. Because of the skilled labor shortage, area companies were building plants in Arkansas, Mississippi or Tennessee because they had the needed labor. That option still exists, even though many regions are faced with the same talent issues as West Michigan.
As a region, if we fail to graduate and retain more young people, if we fail to recruit more workers here, and if we fail to deploy rapid retraining programs for the unemployed, then we face more existing employers seeking new locations to expand.
If this occurs, we will miss out on the next wave of investment, the next wave of technology and the next wave of employment.
Solving this problem requires an all-hands-on-deck solution including employers, employment agencies, economic development, educational institutions and social service agencies.
I am pleased to report that this process has started in our corner of the region with the hope that it will scale regionally. Together, we will develop a solution to meet area employer needs for talent in 2013.