Print Friendly and PDF

Rethinking the Definition of ‘Work’ in Michigan’s Talent-Hungry Economy

Michigan employers are competing for a limited talent pool. Consider the facts: today, the unemployment rate in Michigan is lower than it has been in decades at 3.7 percent. There are 200,000 open jobs. In the next seven years, that number is expected to rise to 800,000.

The Detroit Regional Chamber’s Middle Market Forum held on Nov. 30 at the Detroit Golf Club brought together a panel of talent acquisition and retention experts to answer the question: How can middle market businesses redefine ‘work’ in this talent-hungry economy to compete in this challenging landscape?

George Corona, president and CEO of Kelly Services Inc., teed up the panel discussion with a keynote session on how his company is overcoming the talent gap.

He said that Kelly Services uses the “work first, worker second” approach. This approach means automating the tasks that make sense, then repurpose employees on other more critical area of business. This approach especially makes sense for middle market companies who can offer job versatility to employees seeking additional learning opportunities.

Following his keynote, Corona joined a panel with regional experts in talent acquisition and retention: Lee Graham, executive director of labor management and education for Operating Engineers 324; Jim Livingston, vice president of talent acquisition for Quicken Loans Family of Companies; and Sharon Miller, Michigan talent architect for Consumers Energy. This panel was moderated by John Fikany, chief executive officer for The Fikany Group.

Key takeaways from the panel discussion:

  1. Identify your company’s unique value proposition. What do you have to offer potential (and current) employees?
  2. To strengthen retention, talk to your employees about what makes them want to stay with your company. Use these responses in recruitment messaging.
  3. The workforce participation rate in Michigan is at its lowest in the last seven years, at 60 percent. Several factors contribute, but the most significant are the aging population (increasing retirement rate) and the skills mismatch (lack of qualified talent). If the participation rate were to increase, 14 million Michiganders would be available for open jobs.
  4. Middle market companies should consider hiring and training displaced talent based on performance in internship and apprenticeship programs.
  5. Middle market companies can join the Marshall Plan for Talent and partner with schools that prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow, and possibly funnel talent into a company’s open jobs pipeline.

When asked what advantages middle market companies have over larger companies with more resources, panelists said:

  • Middle market companies offer more versatile experiences to a new generation of employees who do not want to be pigeonholed into one job.
  • Middle market companies can engage in more opportunities for one-on-one communication with students in high school, middle school and elementary school.

For more information on upcoming Chamber events, visit