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The Talent Equation: A Conversation with Kelly CEO Peter Quigley

By James Martinez

Kelly, formerly known as Kelly Services, connects more than 1 million people with work annually while assisting 90 out of the Fortune 100 companies with talent solutions. At the helm is Peter Quigley, a Detroit Regional Chamber board member who is also leading the Chamber’s recently formed CEO Talent Council. Along with 22 other CEOs from a wide range of industries, Quigley provides insight on corporate talent needs and informs the Chamber’s education and talent programming and advocacy.

As CEO of Kelly, Quigley oversees the global talent company which had $5.4 billion in revenue in 2019 and directly employs nearly 440,000 around the world. The company has a unique perspective on talent and workforce as it identifies and recruits people connecting them with employers with workforce needs. They sit on both sides of the talent equation with insight critical to acting on outdated policies and regulatory injustices that hold people back and limit social and career mobility.

How do you think Michigan is doing in the war for talent? 

PQ: Better. I think businesses are becoming more and more aware of the value of ensuring a strong talent pipeline to their long-term success. I think there’s collaboration with colleges and universities to increase the labor participation of more people who are likely to stay in the region. We’re very focused on the brain drain from our world-class universities. We are paying particular attention to getting people back into the pursuit of an educational degree beyond high school that they may have started and helping them find ways to finish it. It’s about increasing the number of opportunities that underrepresented parts of the population have to gain credentials and learn new skills. We have the opportunity to create some separation from other geographies that are over-relying on a less comprehensive approach.

Kelly is part of the Detroit Regional Talent Compact and supports many talent initiatives. What do those efforts look like? 

PQ: Kelly has a unique opportunity to support the programs that are important to retaining talent in the region like Let’s Detroit, the Detroit Promise Scholarship, and the Detroit Regional Talent Compact. We’re planning for something we’re calling a job ladder initiative that connects entry-level employees with opportunities for mobility. It’s based around career readiness and career advancement. Supporting those kinds of programs will add to the talent pipeline here in the region and other like-minded organizations can do the same. Collectively, we can make a significant difference because the participation rate by the underrepresented demographics is not where it needs to be if we’re going to achieve the 60 percent by 2030 education attainment goal or reduce the racial equity gap by half.

Your mother raised four kids on her own, working part-time jobs until she eventually worked her way to lead her own marketing firm. How did that impact your approach to talent development? 

PQ: My mother found herself literally overnight raising four kids by herself, and had never worked outside the home. She was forced to figure it out and she did that through finding part-time jobs in the short term and cobbling together sources of income. Then, ultimately over many, many years she found herself starting and leading her own marketing firm, commuting an hour each way. As a woman in the seventies and eighties, I assure you she would be on the train with a sea of men.

But it’s really about creating opportunity for more people to find meaningful work, regardless of the situation in which they find themselves. And I’m passionate about that. We’ve recently launched an initiative at Kelly called Equity@Work, and it’s really my mother’s experience, the fact that she was able to get out of a dire situation, that drives me and encourages the work that I’m doing, the company’s doing, and the Detroit Regional Talent Compact is doing around creating more opportunity for more people. Not everyone enjoys a straight-line career trajectory. I think we have to find ways to reduce the friction, to allow more people to do what my mother did, which was, get out of a bad situation. She ultimately raised four kids and had a successful career.

You mentioned Equity@Work, what is the goal? 

PQ: Unfortunately, there are still too many barriers that exist, either explicit or implicit, that prevent people from finding meaningful work. And the Equity@Work program is really about shedding a spotlight on these barriers and working with like-minded organizations to take them down. These are things like the bias of requiring a four-year degree for every job when clearly a four-year degree in today’s technically advanced environment is not necessary. Or a blanket disqualification of anyone who has been formerly incarcerated, even though they paid their debt to society and may have skills that are in strong demand. And that the list goes on. There are just too many ways in which we frustrate the advancement of more people through work. And when you talk and think about what we’re trying to do in creating a talent pipeline, there is no place better to do this than right in our backyard.

Anything you want to add about talent or the workforce? 

PQ: The workplace, the workforce, and work time will never be the same as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. And as companies, organizations, and educational institutions, we need to collectively explore how we can take advantage of that in pursuit of our goals for making this part of the world a great place to work and a great place to live. •

James Martinez is a freelance writer and content creation consultant in Metro Detroit.