Uneven Pool For Top Talent


    GRAND RAPIDS — A recently released survey of employers indicates mid-sized to large U.S. companies are increasingly competing for top talent.

    In a survey of 115 companies conducted by Chicago-based Capital H Group, 55 percent of respondents said their biggest challenge in recruiting top performers is the small pool of qualified candidates available.

    Some 50 percent of companies — representing a cross section of sizes, industries, positions and geographic locations — said they planned to hire additional employees over the next six months. Of those, 22 percent also said they were expecting to lose 10 percent to 25 percent of their top performers to retirement over the next five years.

    The rivalry for top talent, according to the survey, is compounded by the fact that companies are competing to fill the same types of positions — the salaried, non-management positions. Accountants, engineers and IT professionals appear to rank highest on the list.

    The survey also reveals that the most popular method used to attract top candidates is money. Some 84 percent of respondents said they offer competitive salaries and rewards, and 79 percent said they used monetary awards to retain top performers and keep them engaged in their work. Furthermore, 55 percent of those surveyed said it’s more expensive to recruit top candidates than it was just 12 months ago.

    Mark Zacha, president of Beacon Services Inc., said West Michigan employers his company works with are looking to fill all levels of positions — from executives to office and manufacturing workers.

    “There is starting to become a shortage of workers,” Zacha said. “From our perspective, we’re having to recruit a lot harder to find qualified people. One of the things we’re seeing is that companies aren’t as willing to increase wages. The wages need a little boost.”

    Accountants and engineers are tougher to find, he acknowledged, but unlike the Capital H Group study, he doesn’t see any lack of qualified candidates for IT positions in this region. In fact, he said West Michigan still has a little bit of a surplus in the IT field.

    “But in engineering and accounting, if people are moving, they’re moving for better pay and better opportunities at new companies. They’re not unemployed workers; they’re being recruited out of existing jobs.”

    Zacha also pointed out that a significant shortage in the labor market is predicted over the next few years based upon the aging of the work force.

    According to a study by the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers, by 2006 one in six workers will be over the age of 55, and the 25 to 34 age group will have shrunk by nearly 9 percent. Projections through 2012 indicate that younger people entering the labor market won’t be enough to replace those leaving.

    “After coming off an economic period of time where there was a glut supply of workers,” Zacha said, “I think we will quickly switch to a period of time where companies and employment agencies will have to recruit more actively and will have a much more difficult time recruiting top talent.”

    Roger Andrzejewski, director of human resources for Lacks Enterprises, said it has been getting tougher for his company to recruit top-notch candidates for a number of years, and that from time to time Lacks has some difficulty filling a position.

    There’s no single, overriding reason for the shrinking candidate pool, he said. As a global manufacturer and a leading supplier to the automotive, telecommunications and consumer electronics markets, Lacks is in a business that requires very technically skilled people because of its plating process, he explained. There are not a lot of people with plating-on-plastic backgrounds in this country, Andrzejewski pointed out, so it’s very difficult for Lacks to find people who already have the requisite skills.

    “We have to look for the best chemists available and be in a position to bring them in and provide them with developmental assignments on a rotational basis until they have the necessary skills and experience to make a contribution to what we do and how we do it.”

    Andrzejewski estimates that more than 90 percent of the people Lacks hires for critical skill positions have to be recruited away from other employers.

    He believes one of the biggest recruitment tools Lacks has is its nationwide reputation as a premier plastics manufacturer with long-term, diversified business relationships with the OEMs.

    He said based on the company’s past history of growth and a future business plan that projects continued growth, “it’s obvious to employment candidates that there is both security and opportunity in working for a company like Lacks Enterprises.”

    When business decreases, administrative people are typically the first to go, and anyone that isn’t directly producing revenue falls victim to the second wave of layoffs, said J.P. Sypniewski, vice president of operations for Axios Inc.

    As he sees it, because of the downsizing of many large West Michigan companies over the last few years, the pool of executive level candidates here isn’t quite as shallow as that of some other regions.

    “Those candidates are available for a limited amount of time,” he stressed. “The key is how quickly we can turn it around and fill more positions within our smaller market before people leave to go to a larger market.

    “As odd as it might seem, even with as many white-collar employees that have been laid off, we’re finding it more difficult to find people for blue-collar jobs. That’s odd, considering that’s the primary group of people losing jobs.”

    Sypniewski thinks businesses here feel they don’t necessarily have to offer the big bucks to attract top-notch talent.

    “We’re not looking at 1 percent unemployment; when that happens you have to offer that little extra something to recruit a person. When we have, say, engineers who are out of work and have to make the choice between moving somewhere else or staying in West Michigan, many will just take a position in West Michigan to keep their family here. Our job market’s growth rate isn’t huge; we have had a limited number of positions available.”

    He believes the job growth in this market will come in the medical field, as the demand for health-care professionals continues to rise.

    Andrzejewski has heard the prediction of a dwindling labor market ahead, but he doesn’t hold a lot of stock in it. With the changes in company pension programs in this country, coupled with the questions about Social Security in the future, he said, more people are working longer.

    “I think the day and age of the 30-years-and-out retirement opportunity and of people retiring young is a thing of the past,” he said. “People who have that opportunity may take advantage of it because they’re still young enough to start a second career. But the defined benefit plans that allowed those kinds of retirements are basically going away.”

    As he sees it, another problem with recruiting top talent is the fact that there are often two wage earners in the same family, so changing jobs is not as easy a decision from a family perspective as it had been in the past. The recruit has to sell the spouse on the job, too.

    “The next thing you know you’re talking with the recruit about all the opportunities the spouse may have in the geographic area and helping them find what opportunities are available,” Andrzejewski said. “That’s very common.”    

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