A consortium of workforce developers, education and business leaders have published a report on the talent outlook in West Michigan, and all signs point toward continued growth.
The 2017 West Michigan Talent Assessment and Outlook, published by regional talent development organization Talent 2025, shows from 2015 to 2016, 25,359 new private payroll jobs were added in West Michigan, for a growth rate of 4.1 percent, compared to 3.4 percent from 2014 to 2015.
Of the jobs added, 4,422 were in manufacturing, which remains the largest sector in the region, accounting for 21.3 percent of all jobs.
The report found the region’s second- and third-largest industries are health care/social assistance and retail trade, with 13.4 percent and 10.3 percent of the region’s jobs, respectively.
West Michigan remains the fastest-growing region in the state, proportionally, compared to nine other “prosperity regions,” including Northwest, Northeast, East Central, East, South Central, Southwest, Southeast and Detroit Metro, as well as the Upper Peninsula.
Kevin Stotts, president of Talent 2025, and Ryan Gimarc, research manager, said the report exists to provide a source of regional data to support talent initiatives and partnerships.
“Our mission is to align talent between supply and demand,” Stotts said. “I first started with Talent 2025 in ’11, and what I heard is that postsecondary and K-12, they didn’t have good labor market and talent demand data. Employers weren’t doing a good job of documenting current supply and forecasting future demand.”
He said the report translates into action each year.
“Our partners in higher education, we’ve seen them use it for starting new education training programs, informing curriculum or making investments in equipment. We’ve seen a commensurate response by Michigan! Works, and this provides the data that infuses that effort.”
Gimarc said employers that Talent 2025 interviewed for this report are getting into the mindset that developing a skilled workforce starts before high school.
“Employers are looking down the road,” he said. “An IT person said, ‘We don’t want to be in a situation where we have not enough developers in 20 years.’ So, you plan 20 years down the road and start teaching these concepts in elementary school.”
With the unemployment rate in the first half of 2017 at 3.6 percent, Stotts said Talent 2025 recognizes the importance of getting employers into a regional collaboration mindset to solve the talent shortage.
“We’ve seen a mindset shift, and it’s a buy-in that we have to solve these issues on a regional basis because they’re so complex, but that’s also where employers hire from,” Stotts said.
The Talent Assessment and Outlook Report breaks 19 private-sector industries into nine industry sectors and takes a deeper look at seven of them to help inform the work of strategic initiatives, such as the West Michigan Health Careers Council, Discover Manufacturing, the Construction Workforce Development Alliance of West Michigan and West Michigan Tech Talent.
The seven sectors compared in the report are agriculture, energy and construction, health care, information technology and media, manufacturing, professional services, and retail and hospitality services.
For each sector, the report includes data on employment and compensation, top occupations by growth and wages, and themes that emerged from industry focus groups Talent 2025 conducted within the seven sectors (see sector comparison table).
Gimarc said he was fascinated to see four themes common to many employers across all sectors: generational differences between baby boomers and millennials, job flexibility and benefits, diversity and inclusion, and use of social media in hiring.
“We do these focus groups within each of the sectors every year, and we grabbed some insights that were specific to the industry and published those last year, but what was lost in that process was the trends cutting across multiple industries. (The themes) are the four we saw come out of most of the industry sectors.
“We put them in neater boxes in terms of four, but there’s a lot of overlap. Job flexibility/working part time often happens in the same conversation as millennials. There’s overlap also between millennials and use of social media in hiring. We wanted to package (the four themes) up in terms of seeing whether they were useful and seeing where a lot of employers are going.”
In general, employers in professional services firms said they reported better success with retention when they provided work-from-home flexibility and part-time options for new parents.
Many employers noted millennials place a high premium on a supportive work culture with opportunities for professional development, as well as a quickly cycling set of projects and work opportunities.
Employers reported difficulty hiring and retaining diverse talent, as there’s a perception that West Michigan is “a bit closed off.”
The focus group participants also said they are having more success than ever with social media recruiting, not just through posting jobs but also through creating social media profiles for their companies that project a positive and desirable brand to prospective candidates.
In the report’s occupational outlook section, West Michigan’s job growth rate is projected to grow by 9.8 percent between 2014 and 2024, outpacing Michigan’s nine other prosperity regions, as well as the state’s expected overall growth rate of 7.4 percent.
Southeast Michigan follows West Michigan at 8 percent, Detroit Metro at 7.8 percent, Northwest at 6.7 percent, South Central at 5.8 percent, Southwest at 5 percent, East at 4.2 percent and East Central at 4 percent (see employment growth by prosperity region sidebar).
Stotts said although Detroit Metro is three times the size of West Michigan, “our job growth is projected to be 50 percent of theirs from 2014 to 2024.”
The occupational groups health care practitioners and technical, and production, are expected to grow the most between 2014 and 2024, adding 7,530 jobs and 7,470 jobs, respectively. Those represent 19.8 percent and 7.5 percent changes, in that order.
“There’s a lot of good news happening with the economy and employment,” Stotts said.
Jobs by industry in West Michigan, 2016
Manufacturing: 21.3 percent
Health care and social assistance: 13.4 percent
Retail trade: 10.3 percent
Administrative and support and waste management: 10.1 percent
Accommodation and food services: 7.8 percent
Education services: 7.3 percent
Wholesale trade: 4.7 percent
Construction: 4.1 percent
Professional, scientific and technical services: 3.4 percent
Source: Talent 2025
Percent employment growth by prosperity region 2014-24*
West Michigan: 9.8 percent
Southeast Michigan: 8 percent
Detroit Metro: 7.8 percent
Northwest Michigan: 6.7 percent
South Central Michigan: 5.8 percent
Southwest Michigan: 5 percent
East Michigan: 4.2 percent
East Central Michigan: 4 percent
*Numbers for Upper Peninsula not included
Source: Talent 2025
West Michigan sector comparison
2016 W. Mich. employment
Energy and construction
IT and media
Retail and hospitality
Source: Talent 2025