Street Talk: You want to keep them? Pay them


The Business Journal this week is filled with forecasts, featuring comments from The Right Place, Upjohn Institute, Answers Corp., Colliers International and more.

You will notice a common theme — and subtheme — running through these reports: The recession is over. The economy is not only recovering, but growing. The future looks bright.

And lots of paychecks still look the same.

Expert after expert is sounding a warning bell that job switching will be the norm in 2015 as employees with certain skill sets will be in demand as fuel for that projected growth.

“It is very difficult to match people’s pay and be competitive in the area,” said Beth Kelly, owner of HR Collaborative in Grand Rapids. “I would say we could continue to look at our pay practices and be willing to put our money where our interests are when it comes to talent.”

The Right Place’s Birgit Klohs agrees.

“As the economy continues to get better, if we don’t pay, people will go to the next company for their better-paying job, and you can’t blame them. There has to be a balance between labor costs and continuing to hire new people.”

One sector that might be ahead of the wages curve is information technology. Computer consulting and health care companies will be leaders in increased hiring of IT staff in the next six months in West Michigan. This certainly goes along with the Talent 2025 study reported last week in the Business Journal. That report says that, by 2020, the fastest-growing occupations will be in health care (24 percent) and computers and math (19 percent). Overall, about 60 percent of the companies Holland-based Paragon Recruiting polled plan to increase their IT staffing next winter and spring. Not one company plans to decrease IT staff.

More than 80 percent of the companies that plan to hire tech workers are also increasing their salaries, according to Beth DeWilde, Paragon’s chief recruiting officer. This compares to only 36 percent of companies in summer 2013 that said they were raising IT pay.

DeWilde cited an annual salary report from The Employers’ Association in Grand Rapids. In 2013, the report indicated the median salary for IT ranged from $40,000 to $105,000; in 2014, the median salary ranged from $44,000 to $108,000.

"2014 has been a solid, steady hiring year for technology professionals,” she said. “The need for more senior level people is in line with baby boomers retiring and wages needing to increase due to a much smaller pool of workers immediately following — basic supply and demand. This should loosen up in the next couple of years with the so-called ‘baby-boom echo’ coming into the workforce. Let's hope they are geeks.”

Let freedom ring

The Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award is the highest recognition given by the U.S. government to employers for outstanding support of employees serving in the Guard and Reserve.

Each year, Guard and Reserve employees have the opportunity to nominate their employers for the Freedom Award in one of three categories: small, large and public sector. Only 15 awards are presented to the best of the best employers each year.

The Michigan Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve is reporting that a larger than usual number of Michigan employers have been nominated this year. The nomination period opened in November and remains open through Jan. 19.

State ESGR Chairman Mel Bauman said he expects nominations for nearly 100 employers of all sizes and types.

"There are a lot of Michigan employers out there in both the private and public sectors that have been going above and beyond the call of duty to take care of their National Guard and Reserve employees, and we want them to be recognized for their efforts,” he said.

In addition to the Freedom Award, state level recognition is available for employers who exceed the standard for supporting their Reserve and Guard employees.

Barton Buechner, ESGR state vice chair, attributes the surge in Michigan nominees in part to the recent emphasis by many employers in the state on hiring military veterans.

“Once they begin hiring more veterans, which includes those still serving in the reserve components, employers begin to realize the contributions they make to their workforce and take positive steps to retain them. This results in the supportive practices which make them eligible for this recognition.”

HR policies that set these employers apart include providing for a “pay differential” during periods of military service, establishing veteran affinity groups, and actively participating in military and veteran hiring fairs. Buechner also noted that, in addition to companies like Whirlpool and Dow, some Michigan schools have won state-level awards for being exemplary employers.

"Many Michigan colleges and universities are setting the pace in becoming more ‘veteran-friendly’ for returning military students, and this is carrying over into their employment practices." he said.

In recent years, Central Michigan University, Saginaw Valley State University and Davenport University have received recognition for their winning combination of veteran-friendly campuses and supportive employment.

County counts

This might be the time of year when Santa checks his list, but Kent County’s Daryl Delabbio and Dan Koorndyk might want to get in on the action, too.

This month Kent County made the national top 10 list of “mega-sized fourth economy communities” ideally positioned to attract modern investment and managed economic growth.

The “fourth economy” characterizes the most recent phase of the nation’s economy, reflecting a combination of the previous three economies, including agrarian, industrial and technological, according to Fourth Economy Consulting. The index is intended to serve as a benchmark for community stakeholders to gauge their capacity to attract and retain modern investment.

“In our work with economic development organizations across the country, we’ve encountered a growing recognition in a variety of communities for alternative measures of economic development success and for evolving new and more meaningful metrics to gauge their performance,” said Rich Overmoyer, CEO of Fourth Economy Consulting, which is based in Pittsburgh.

“The Fourth Economy Community Index highlights the elements we’ve witnessed throughout our work that are required to make stronger, more economically resilient communities.”

Each county is measured on investment, sustainability, diversity, talent and place.

Kent County comes in at No. 9 with the following description: “Spurred by robust growth in manufacturing, Kent County has grown in GDP and wealth over the past few years. The county has a lively nonprofit community, a myriad of recreational activities and a prosperous tourism industry — enough to generate a lot of local pride.”

That sounds about right.

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