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Sunday, 16 February 2014 22:35

Culture, flexibility provide employers new weapons in recruiting

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In the so-called “war for talent,” small businesses are finding that their culture and work environment can be as important to candidates as the pay and benefits they’re offering.

From advanced manufacturers and technology startups to service-sector businesses and health care providers, companies must consider new methods to recruit and retain employees, experts said.

“I think culture is absolutely paramount,” said Mark Lancaster, president and CEO of EmploymentGroup Inc., a Battle Creek-based staffing agency. “People don’t leave companies, they leave bosses.”

To create a culture that attracts the best skilled employees and keeps them at a company, employers need to pay attention to small gestures such as verbal and written affirmations of workers because those kinds of outreach can go a long way toward making people feel appreciated, Lancaster said.

While executives at staffing agencies and human resources professionals largely agree that smart employers have focused on creating a culture where people want to work, they say companies are taking many different paths to achieve those goals.

Workplace flexibility is one of the most crucial attributes an employer can offer, said David Smith, president and CEO of The Employers’ Association of Grand Rapids (TEA).

“Companies, more and more, are starting to identify the job that needs to be done, leveraging the skill set to do it, and not worrying quite as much about tracking the hours,” Smith told MiBiz. “Those organizations that do that are finding better loyalty. Employees’ work life is happier and they’re generally more productive.”

TEA practices what it preaches around employee flexibility, Smith said. The organization has just seven employees and three of them work remotely, he added.


Grand Rapids as startup hub

While culture can act as a draw for companies, sometimes firms still find they need to locate near talent they can afford. That was the case for technology startup Adonit Creative Inc.

The Taipei-based manufacturer of stylus pens for tablet computers moved into West Michigan because of the region’s base of talent and because its low cost of living made wages more affordable than around Austin, Texas, where the company has its U.S. headquarters, said Mac Fowler, Adonit’s director of software.

In particular, Adonit found it needed to expand its American operations beyond Austin where the presence of tech giants such as Google and Facebook drove up the price of skilled developers, he said.

Since coming to Grand Rapids last April, the firm has hired eight people at its downtown office in the Tech Hub and continues to seek one or two developers for iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system, Fowler said. The company has hired through word of mouth and by utilizing Fowler’s personal networks, as well as those of the company’s employees.

“Grand Rapids has a really good thing going for it,” Fowler said. “One thing that I think is an interesting point is that Grand Rapids isn’t the only place out there fighting for this talent. You have other markets like St. Louis, Boulder, Denver — a bunch of different hubs that are all basically fighting for the same level of talent and level of resources. Cost of living only gets us so far. What else can we do to attract more people into this area? I think (Grand Rapids) is making good progress, but I think a problem could arise if we have three or four companies hit a very large growth curve and start demanding a lot more talent over the next three or four years that, right now, just isn’t here.”


The web as a hiring tool

Certainly the Internet has had a discernible impact on how companies market to potential employees, as well as in how employees can research and apply for jobs. Given the convenience of posting open positions on websites such as Monster.com and Craigslist, companies are finding it is easier than ever to advertise jobs.

Opinions differ, however, as to whether posting open positions online has actually impacted how companies do their hiring.

EmploymentGroup, which has offices around West Michigan, has taken to using data analytics as a method for establishing best practices in searching for new employees. The agency’s data scientist has found the majority of hires came from employee referrals, followed by Internet postings, and lastly, old-fashioned classified advertisements. Lancaster added the analysis has found approximately 4,000 employees have started with the agency as temporary workers and then transitioned to full-time employees in a number of industries.

“We just started with MLive classified ads and honestly, our hits on our website have gone up exponentially,” he said, adding that LinkedIn has had a pronounced effect as well, particularly on people looking for upper-level, higher paying jobs. “It’s a war for talent out there. To get the best talent, you better be using the best and latest techniques.”

However, TEA’s Smith said he doesn’t think the big job boards and websites like Craigslist yield great recruits for higher-level jobs. Instead, he said that networking and word of mouth still remain the best practices for recruiting.

“(The online job boards) were something that, I think, were a little overrated,” Smith told MiBiz with a laugh. “It never took off quite the way it was intended to. I think a lot of low-skilled jobs are still found through Craigslist. LinkedIn is probably more prevalent for professional jobs.”

As the economy has improved out of the recession, companies have increasingly turned to staffing or temporary worker agencies, which can present advantages for employers, sources said. But the ways companies use those firms are changing as well.

In previous years, a company would turn to an agency such as Manpower when it needed to ramp up staffing levels quickly for a major order or to have someone fill in during vacations. Now, however, companies see agencies as offering a “try before you buy” system, said Becca Dernberger, Manpower’s vice president and general manager for its northeastern division.

“A lot of companies are utilizing staffing companies as part of their HR department and oftentimes as part of their workforce development plan,” Dernberger said.

More people in skilled trades such as welders and machine operators are finding permanent placement after first getting work through temporary agencies, she said.

As employers in West Michigan look to 2014 and beyond, they must put considerable effort into being a place that skilled workers want to work, rather just where they have to go to get a paycheck, she said.

“It is the employees’ market right now, and I think it’s up to the employer to become an employer of choice,” Dernberger said. “Whether that’s work environment, pay grades or culture, you want to be the employer that gets talked about. Word of mouth is a company’s best advertisement.”

Read 4770 times Last modified on Sunday, 16 February 2014 18:17
Nick Manes

Staff writer

[email protected]

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