Area’s big job growth talent needs must be met with successes in diversity hiring


The Business Journal finds interesting contrasts — and possible solutions — in two reports, one focused on Talent 2025’s study of employment and skill needs, and the other a review of Start Garden’s outreach to minority communities.

Talent 2025’s study, based on detailed research and many employer focus groups across categories, shows West Michigan job growth (based on planned new positions, not including replacements for vacancies) will continue to outpace the rest of Michigan, a projected growth of 9.8 percent. The state’s projected job growth rate is 7.4 percent. Area employers continued to express concern regarding recruitment, especially for “hard-to-fill positions” requiring a great amount of education. Well more than two-thirds of those new jobs will require education beyond high school, with almost 40 percent of those requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The Talent 2025 study also shows employers across all business sectors report diversity and inclusion top their objectives in hiring but also expressed difficulty in doing so, either because (most often) diversity in talent is “highly sought after” or “the necessity to attract diverse candidates from outside West Michigan.”

A note worthy of mention here is the construction industry focus group of business leaders indicated many are moving away from employee referrals as the main source of talent recruitment, specifically to diversify the businesses.

Start Garden made immediate, intentional changes to its processes after “the Forbes article” of 2015, showing Grand Rapids ranked 51st of 52 cities where African-Americans are “doing best economically.”

Start Garden notes a study by The Case Foundation last year showed just less than 90 percent of the venture capital awarded went to white, male-owned startups. Just 10 percent of venture-backed companies had a female founder and only 1 percent had an African-American founder. Former LINC co-Executive Director Darel Ross II and former Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jorge Gonzalez were added to Start Garden’s executive team. The pair told the Business Journal they have been “intentional and targeted” ensuring they have been inclusive and everyone has equal access to those resources. Ten of the past dozen 5×5 Night winners have been female or minority-owned pitches. Those pitch nights have moved around from Muskegon to Holland and the Downtown Market, in locations like breweries or at LINC.

The program that has been around for years now sees different results. Ross makes the point: assuring everyone in the community is fully active ensures great neighborhoods for entrepreneurs to live in, surrounded by thriving and diverse businesses that can compete with bigger Midwestern cities that have drained some of Grand Rapids’ talent.

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