While I was sending out my Christmas cards this year, I realized that I have seven adult nieces and nephews that grew up in Michigan.  This wasn’t the surprise.  What was a surprise is that of them, five have moved out of state and two have remained.  I don’t think that this is an unusual situation.  When I talk to my friends and neighbors with adult kids, one of the inevitable questions is “Where do they live now?”

So why don’t we have the employees we need in Michigan?  Here are some of the reasons:

–        More people are able to retire.  The recent record stock market levels have allowed some baby boomers who have held off retiring to now take that step.  At the same time, the economy has been adding jobs faster than young people are entering the workforce.

–        New graduates are leaving the state.   We completed a project last spring where we evaluated the labor market for a client.  The results were pretty disturbing.  For example, of the 279 graduates from MSU’s 2013 Supply Chain Management program, only 37 reported that they had accepted jobs in Michigan.  The remainder were headed out of state.

–        Current employees are leaving the state:  Allied Van Lines has labeled Michigan a “High Outbound State” based on the number of families they have relocated out of the state in 2014.  These aren’t new college graduates hiring a moving company, these are experienced employees moving away.

–        Michigan jobs don’t match the skills of our workforce.  There’s currently a mismatch between the skills of candidates and open positions.  We need more engineers and skilled trade employees, but those aren’t the fields people are choosing.

–        Michigan’s weather isn’t a draw.  Last year we had to contend with the polar vortex.  This year started with the Battle Creek/Kalamazoo area in the national news over a 200 car pile-up on I-94.  Whenever our region makes the national news in a bad way, it hurts recruiting.

–        Manufacturing jobs still aren’t viewed as desirable.  Michigan has a strong manufacturing based economy and our recent economic growth has been supported heavily by the resurgence of the automotive industry.  However, until parents are comfortable recommending a career in manufacturing to their kids, filling these jobs is going to continue to be a challenge.  Manufacturing environments have improved dramatically, but their reputation still has a ways to go.

Frankly, I’d like nothing better than to have my nieces and nephews move back to Michigan, but since I’m not willing to squeeze them all into my house, we’re going to have to encourage them to come back with good jobs and great communities, not Tami’s cooking.  Here are some things that employers can do to help:

–        Be an employer of choice.  This includes creating a positive environment where employees have the ability to learn new things, be challenged in their work, and be recognized for their accomplishments.  Applicants have their choice of companies, make them want yours.

–        Pay competitive wages.  Compensation does matter.  People want to live comfortably and snow blowers are expensive.

–        Be inclusive.  Young educated professionals expect people to be treated the same.  Michigan’s recent designation as the fifth worst state in the nation for LGB citizens by Rolling Stone Magazine certainly doesn’t help us attract top talent.  Encourage your elected officials to provide equal rights to everyone.

–        Work on improving our communities.  Millennials and skilled professionals want to work and live in places with vibrant downtowns, public transportation, and outdoor activities.  What does your community offer them?

–        Provide training.  There are new programs which have increased funding and support of skilled trades programs at community colleges, including the implementation of a “13th year” program for high school.  Let’s get more young people into these programs.

–        Hire and develop great leaders.  Nothing drives employee engagement more than having great leaders who care about their people and embody the culture you for your organization.  If you have leaders who have been allowed to fly under the radar with either toxic or self-fulfilling agendas, you will not succeed and your high performers are at risk of leaving.

As a lifelong Michigander, I know what an amazing state this is.  We have strong communities, great people, beautiful beaches, and an occasional warm day to enjoy them.   I’d like nothing more than to share it with my nieces and nephews.  And maybe have them shovel for me…

1 Comment

  1. Kristi Droppers

    Yes, yes, yes. I agree with all that this article has to say about why people are not staying in Michigan for work and what employers need to do keep or attract employees to the state. I would like to add another recommendation to the list regarding what employers need to do to keep and attract employees and that is to stop discriminating against outsiders, people with different ideas and senior-level women.

    I moved here from NJ for personal reasons. I have decades of experience working in large corporations, non-profit organizations and with family run businesses. I have had a successful career and have never had a difficult time finding work until I moved to Michigan. Finally after months of networking and talking to so many NICE senior-level people I had the opportunity to meet with one woman in a senior role that sat me down and told me the truth and said, “they are never going to hire you!” I gulped, and inquired why and she replied, “people from Michigan feel obligated to hire people they know and are from Michigan.” “They are not that keen on people from out-of-state and in particular people from the east coast.” Second, expertise is in process improvement, change management and performance improvement. She stated,“they really like things the way they are and are not open to hear ideas from the outside.” Lastly, my other handicap is my sex. I am not male and females don’t occupy very many senior level positions in most companies within SW Michigan. The combination of all three put me in a very low poor probability of being hired. Her words stung but it all started to make sense. I had great meetings for months with nice people who said they were so impressed with my work and credentials however, no one was ever really offering me a position instead they were handing me off to someone else to meet or connect with and never making any investment in me.

    So, I did what every other hard workingwoman I know does when she knows she has talent and plans to support herself… I started my own company and work virtually with a partner and already have clients, which, just happen to be on the east coast.

    I am not alone in this experience. Since I moved here a year ago I have met three other women who have experienced the exact discrimination. Let’s call it like it is. This is discrimination and it is tragic because the lack of diversity in Michigan companies will contribute to the lack of innovation and creativity and it will fuel slow or no growth and the perpetual brain drain going on right now in Michigan.

    I’ve moved on. I’m not looking for work in Michigan anymore. Yes, Michigan will get some tax revenue from me but they won’t ever have my full loyalty since I’m not really engaged in what happens here. That’s not good. It can’t be good.

    This mentality will take dynamic leadership at the state and municipal level and within every business association we have in this state. However, the first to leave a sinking economy are the dynamic leaders. That makes me concerned that we don’t have those leaders in positions to change our course. It saddens me to think that the men and women in Lansing are more concerned about denying LGB rights over improving the roads and infrastructure so that we can attract new industries, people can reach their jobs and kids can get to school. If they can’t get those priorities straight how the heck will they ever lead the state to be open to outsiders or insiders with different ideas on how to create new ways of working, new companies and new communities that attract your nephews, nieces and mine too?

    If you want to change the brain drain find leaders across Michigan that are willing to stand-up and lead big changes across this state with courage and charisma and buck the old system. And, please point them out because I and a few other smart women I know are looking for them too.

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