Talent Imperative: Making a Real(time) Difference


Success in business is a combination of what you know, who you know, and what you do about it.  This is the premise behind the Workforce Intelligence Network.  WIN is a new Southeast Michigan initiative led by 7 Michigan Works! Agencies and 8 community colleges in 9 counties across the region.  The New Economy Initiative provided a $1.5 million grant to launch the WIN network.  The purpose is to help employers find the talent they need for success.

The truth is, this talent is also what Southeast Michigan needs for success. Job growth and attraction efforts will be undermined if workers are not prepared (or available) to meet employers’ needs.  In fact, major researchconsulting and other organizations are finding that talent is a key driver in ensuring a company’s—and an economy’s—ability to compete.  For manufacturers, talent-driven innovation has been ranked even more important for competitiveness than labor, material, and energy costs, financial trade and tax systems, legal and regulatory systems, and more.  And while these trends are felt nationally, employers, economic developers, and others feel the pinch right here in Michigan: even with high unemployment and a large percentage of people actively seeking work, employers struggle to find the talent they need to support  their new, growing, and increasingly high tech endeavors.

What is WIN going to do to achieve its mission and support talent-driven economic development?  We’re going to change the way we do business to help business, following the model for private sector success:

What you know
WIN is about real-time opportunities—its aim is to ensure that the regional talent system is preparing workers for jobs that employers are trying to fill TODAY.  This allows workforce development agencies, colleges, and other talent stakeholders to be more relevant because we can understand our labor market—both supply and demand—better than ever.

What does this mean? 

  1. We rely on current data to meet the talent needs of today.  Generally, talent experts—workforce developers, educators, and others—have relied on historical employment trends to make projections about current and future job needs.  But  publicly available employment data lags up to two years.  The most recently available BLS data available today is from 2010.  When it comes to SE MI, this poses problems.  For example, in the case of computer numeric control (CNC), a critical manufacturing process, BLS data showed a substantial decline in employment, and our partners began cutting their relevant training capacity and programs. Today we can see that demand for skilled trades is high.  In fact, our region has the highest demand for workers like CNC operators and programmers, welders, and others, than any other major metropolitan area in the country.  In the last quarter (March to May) there were over 600 postings for CNC operators and programmers in our region alone. (Source: Burning Glass 2012) While projected BLS data would show an ongoing decline, real-time data let us see that demand has skyrocketed in the last two years. This is information that allows the WIN talent system to respond appropriately, supplying workers that employers need for success.
  2. We can move from the general to the specific.  Real time data lets us move away from generalities of federally available occupational information and to trainable specifics. For example, one of the top employment needs in our region is for software applications developers.  Federal skills identified for this occupation include things like “complex problem solving” and “programming.”  Real-time intelligence helps us understand that developers need to understand multiple programming languages, like SQL, C++, .NET, and so forth.  These are tangible, teachable skills that talent partners can integrate into their education and training programs.
  3. We can truly understand the magnitude of our regional talent needs.  We have been hearing anecdotally about a regional (and even national) engineering crisis and that employers struggle to find IT and other talent that they need.  For the first time, we are able to quantify the severity of some of these skills gap on a real-time basis.  For example, according to analysis using CareerBuilder, there are 3-4 active jobseekers for every posting in Michigan.  However, diving deeper into critical occupations, there is:

    Understanding the severity of these needs helps us understand whether we can grow enough local talent to meet needs or whether efforts need to be combined with talent attraction, retention, or other game-changing strategies.

Who you know and what you do about it
Armed with this information, WIN is able to convene the right stakeholders to produce solutions that address employers’ talent concerns.  This includes our array of college and workforce system partners, but also universities, K-12 schools, community based organizations, government, economic developers, and employers themselves. So far, the results have been exciting:  WIN has partnered with the State of Michigan to bring Shifting Code training dollars to the region to help dislocated and other workers  up-skill and re-skill in critical programming languages.  WIN also has convened a regional skilled-trades task force to develop a strategy for CNC apprenticeships and rapid-paced training programs.  And we’re working with a host of partners to tackle engineering skill shortages. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what can be done when partners with strong motivation come together with the right information.  When it comes to employers’ talent needs, WIN partners are ready, eager, and willing to make a real-time difference.

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