Employers should form alliances against coming talent shortages

Why should Michigan employers be concerned about talent pipelines?

I run a small food manufacturing business in West Michigan, and I am concerned about my ability to hire talented people in the next 10 -15 years. My answer: Help educate my workforce so they are equipped to leave whenever they want.

I realize this makes no sense whatsoever. I know every other small to mid-market company owner has already stopped reading. But if by chance you are still reading, hear me out.

All the statistics I read claim there will be a shortage of talented, educated individuals by 2025 or 2030. For a quick look, watch Rainer Strack’s TED talk. Maybe you think you will escape this shortage. Or maybe you’ll simply decide to take a wait-and-see approach, banking on the notion that it will pass like every other doom scenario. If that’s the case, I sincerely hope you are right.

However, if you think there might be even a shred of a possibility that this talent shortage could come to fruition, who do you think ends up with the best and brightest talent? You? Me? The small guys with a limited number of advancement opportunities, working on niche and differentiated market propositions? Or will it be the large-scaled companies where those bright, educated individuals will feel safe and have well-defined advancement and education opportunities? Well, based on what I have seen in my business already, my money is on the big guys.

Sure, there are several great things about working for small and mid-sized companies. We can have great family-oriented culture, we can be flexible, we don’t have to answer to stockholders clamoring for quarterly returns, and we can take risks, trying new markets and products. We can be really fun places to stretch your talent and still enjoy your life, family, and hobbies. But I am not sure that will be enough.

I think – as small to mid market companies – we need to accept that we are going to be competing with the big companies for talent, like we often do with our go-to-market strategies and like we often do in the marketplace. We will always lose on price. We will not be able to attract talent by outbidding the big guys.

So, what if we could partner with other small to mid-market companies, and what if maybe some of the big guys in our respective communities helped to extend our talent development strategies to a community-wide approach? In my company, what if after two promotions, a person knew they would be moving out to a better job at another company – within my network of employers – within my community? What if the kids who are not graduating from my local high school could start working for me and complete their GED simultaneously? What if the student at the local tech training school, who needs to work, could work for me as an intern while finishing a degree, would know they have access to the next employer?

What if small to mid-market companies could in fact come together, and through analyzing their own talent needs and gaps, find other employers in their community and collaborate around creating opportunity across their community?

What if that could work? I believe that if we stop trying to retain our employees and focus on equipping our employees to leave our organizations, we will quickly become companies people seek out. We will be able to provide job security and career stability far more effectively than the big guys, and continue to be the employers of choice.

This will take a lot of work; it will take collaboration with workforce development boards, local school systems, tech schools, colleges, and most of all other employers. However, I believe that those of us who figure this out and build these networks will be far stronger and smarter companies when the talent shortage gets brutal, and if it doesn’t, we will still be stronger and smarter companies, and what could be wrong with that?

Mark Peters will speak at The Center for Michigan’s Challenges to Upward Mobility solutions summit, Oct. 20 at Grand Valley State University. Register here.

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