Still facing health care, diversity challenges


Jon Snead sees two main challenges facing human resources professionals in Grand Rapids.

Snead, who has lived in West Michigan his whole life, is the senior vice president at Aon Risk Solutions, a globally recognized insurance agency where he has worked for 19 years.

With an insider’s view of the community, he’s seen how the city has changed, both economically and culturally.

And economics and culture are two of the biggest issues facing HR, he said. On the economics side (also known as the benefits side) of things, you have health care, and on the culture side of things, you have diversity.

Culturally speaking, one of the biggest challenges Snead is hearing about from senior HR people at large West Michigan employers is the challenge to attract and retain a diverse talent pool, he said.

“West Michigan has made a lot of changes and strides when it comes to diversity, but it’s still behind in many other areas. (For senior management), really, the drive is to attract a more diverse population in West Michigan, and that’s been a challenge for a lot of our employers here, especially the larger ones,” he said.

“I think West Michigan, despite its efforts, is still a little bit behind if you compare it to another larger city, even compared to Detroit or Chicago, cities like that. And trying to attract folks here … a lot of employers are really focusing on how can we create a culture where people want to come and stay here. …

“A lot of the issues are: looking for peers. Say somebody is coming here of an ethnic background or a gender background; they want to see their peers in similar roles within other employers, and that’s really been a focus.”

He said the second major HR issue, the economic issue, is the same as it been for years: health care costs.

“The other side, and it has been a challenge for several years, is the whole health care cost and the control of that. This is even before the ACA (Affordable Care Act) passed in 2010. This is something employers have been challenged with for several years. And pretty much every year, they’re looking to do something different with their health care plan,” he said.

“The cost of health care and the need to continue to provide it is the number one issue on the benefits side of the house for HR.”

Aside from the complexity of the ever-changing health care question, Grand Rapids is still a great city economically, Snead said. The cost of living isn’t nearly as high as in larger cities, and there’s an opportunity to attract and retain talent through the local colleges, he said.

But diversity is still a pressing issue.

“I’ve lived here my whole life and I’ve seen lots and lots of changes, but I think people can still see it as a small town — kind of cliquish. If you’re a senior manager looking at a large house, a lot of those suburbs with larger homes maybe aren’t as diverse as they would like to see,” he said.

“Internally, they’re all trying to develop taskforces and policies to begin that conversation or advance that conversation: How do we make our workforce match what’s out there in the world? How do we become a more diverse workforce? How do we change the culture of our companies?”

Aon, which got its start in Chicago and is now headquartered in London, has offices all over the world. Its downtown Grand Rapids office, 50 Louis St. NW, has about 40 employees and 60 clients in West Michigan.

Aon Risk Solutions works with employers to help design, deliver and administer employee benefit programs and other human resource-related practices and programs for themselves and their employees, Snead said, adding, “We touch pretty much everything that touches employees.”

As for Snead, he’s going to keep working to answer those questions about diversity and health care.

“I was born and raised here. I love this area. I’m not going anywhere. And it’s been exciting to see the success and the growth in this area,” he said. “My goal as I work with these different employers is to meet their needs wherever they are.”

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