Few would disagree that talent without passion and hard work is a commodity wasted. And wasted talent is one of life’s greatest tragedies.
Talent is the fuel that drives any growing concern, whether it’s a small company, multinational corporation — or even a local, regional or national economy.
Northeast Ohio has long competed with the East and West coasts, Chicago and the Sunbelt for our nation’s top talent. But today, we are in more direct competition with regional markets such as Columbus, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh.
There is both good news and bad news about our region’s ability to attract and retain the best and brightest. If you’re a candidate seeking a position, Greater Cleveland is one of the strongest markets in the country. However, companies in our area are drawing from an ever-tightening talent pool, which could ultimately hinder our ability to compete.
The best news is that private firms, major corporations, employment resource companies and government and civic workforce development organizations are working to find innovative and creative solutions. And those solutions could soon coalesce into a unified front that will ultimately benefit the local economy.
“I don’t know how many consecutive quarters of growth we have had here in Northeast Ohio, but it’s near a record,” says D. Scott Saunders, branch manager for the Cleveland Office of Robert Half International, an executive recruitment firm with more than 400 offices around the globe. “Unemployment rates for degreed people in fields like accounting, finance and technology are at 2 percent or lower. So, the market has really swung in the candidate’s favor as far as the employment opportunities that are out there.
“Candidates today have more options now than they have had in a long time,” says Saunders. “We tell our clients that if you find someone you like, you need to move very quickly, because the shelf life of a great candidate that used to be two weeks to a month is now measured in days or even hours.”
The imbalance in talent supply and demand has companies scrambling to compete.
“For any organization to grow, the most essential key is to recruit and retain top talent,” says Meenakshi Sharma, assistant dean of Career and Student Affairs at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University. “Good talent is at premium.“
The attraction, retention and training of talent is “essential to the growth of any local economy — to develop home-grown talent, but also infuse an area with new people and fresh perspectives,” says Angela Finding, director of education and workforce for the Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP). “That’s why we work very closely with the business community, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and our higher education partners on many different initiatives that address talent issues.”
The earlier that process starts, the better. “Young talent is incredibly important for companies, but it is also very important for nonprofits as well,” says Ashley Basile Oeken, president of Engage! Cleveland, a resource for Cleveland’s young professionals to help them connect to the organizations, nonprofits, events, businesses and individuals that will help them become better integrated to the city.
“Developing the next generation will sustain our workforce and economic development efforts,” Oeken says.
But it’s not just about attracting those starting out on a career path, she notes.
“Older generations can learn from millennials in terms of using technology and thinking outside the box,” she says. “But certainly, millennials can learn from the older generations, so the transference of knowledge doesn’t fall between the cracks when people retire.”
There is some good news on the horizon, says Oeken. “The Fifth Migration,” a report commissioned by the Cleveland Foundation and conducted by Cleveland State University’s Center for Population Dynamics, shows that Cleveland’s millennial population is growing at a stronger clip than its counterparts in many of our nearest competitive cities. But there is still much work that needs to be done.
It all starts with establishing definitions for professional talent.
Defining talent, defining needs
Measuring top talent is more of an art than a science, although there are scientific methods to assess a job candidate’s skill level. ERC, an organization that provides HR resources, training, consulting and coaching services, offers companies a wide range of tests and evaluations that can help a company find ideal candidates.
“Before an organization makes a hire at any level, we believe you should do an assessment of that individual,” says Kelly Keefe, president of ERC. “You need to know how they pay attention to detail, how they work on a team, or if they are only focused on their end results. Those are the kinds of things that are hard to determine in a one-on-one interview.”
Those assessments can include a battery of psychological tests, which are almost impossible to fix.
“Assessments can also help employers to focus on areas where a potential candidate might have a problem,” she says. “And those problems may be easily addressed as simply as having a conversation with an individual.”
But when it comes to evaluating talent company wide, the commitment must come from leadership.
“What we have found is that every company measures top talent differently, depending on their culture, and the needs they have within their organization,” says Keefe. “A talented individual can bring a lot to an organization, as long as they fit within the culture.”
Although some companies have formalized the process of defining talent, other haven’t, says Keefe.
“So, one of the first steps is for upper-level management to sit down and define what top talent is, and what it means to their organization,” Keefe adds. “You then build out a meaningful, consistent and sustainable process.”
Every manager within an organization must evaluate their candidates’ and employees’ talent.
“An executive assistant and a marketing manager may have different skill sets, but across the line you need to know how they will be engaged with their work,” says Keefe. “You can’t just say someone is a great employee and take those traits out to a whole organization. But you need to apply ideal traits to specific disciplines within your organization.”
Although defining talent is essential for companies, nonprofits and other organizations, targeting the talent needs for our entire area is also essential for future economic growth.
TeamNEO is an economic development organization focused on an 18-county region in Northeast Ohio. Working in partnership with the Cleveland Foundation, TeamNEO’s recent report, “Aligning Opportunities in Northeast Ohio, a Resource to Aid in Addressing the Demand and Supply Imbalance in the Region’s Workforce,” clearly addresses the specific talent needs of the local economy.
Although Northeast Ohio offers outstanding job and career opportunities, those opportunities don’t necessarily align with the skill sets of our current talent pool. The study found that the demand for skilled and educated talent is increasing. By 2020, the majority of jobs in Ohio will require some sort of credential. Only 54 percent of adults in Northeast Ohio have the required education or skill level to meet the demand predicted by 2020, which means 11 percent growth is needed to achieve the 2020 projected demand of 65 percent.
Certainly, studies like TeamNEO’s will go a long way toward achieving workforce talent goals. But the need for public/private partnerships is essential.
“Our focus is on driving economic development outcomes from the attraction, expansion and retention perspective by working with myriad public and private sector companies as well as philanthropic institutions to help grow our economy,” says Bill Koehler, CEO of TeamNEO. “In a lot of ways, individual companies and organizations have been trying to address these problems, which have yielded some very innovative ideas.”
The approach, at least so far, has been fragmented at best, says Koehler. There is still a very real need to create a common way to put real metrics around measuring, attracting and retaining talent.
Attracting talent from outside our area or growing the talent that already resides in our area is something of a false choice, says Koehler.
“You really need to do both,” he says, “Attraction is important, but we already have people here who are looking for work. They may be credentialed and have the ability to work. They just need to be further trained.”
Destination Cleveland and other organizations have built Cleveland into a tourist destination. Visitors to events such as the 2016 Republican National Convention, 2016 World Series and NBA Finals have a new perspective on the city once dismissed as the “Mistake on the Lake.”
“But now we have to get those people to come here and start a career,” says Oeken. “That’s why we need to get the message out that Cleveland is a great place for young professionals to live and grow.”
“The fact that Cleveland is undergoing a renaissance is a big factor in attracting and retaining talent,” says Finding from the GCP. “Young people want to live in place that is cultured, diverse, cool, vibrant, but also a place that continues to grow and evolve.”
Earlier this summer, Engage! Cleveland held its Young Professionals Week. Next month, the organization is hosting an event called “The State of the Young Professional Community” where it will release data on what younger generations like millennials or Generation Z are looking for when it comes to a career.
“One of the things that we are finding is that people in Generation Z, who are just entering the workforce, are looking for more civic and community engagement than their predecessors,” says Oeken. “They are looking to become more involved with their communities, whether it’s simply attending an event, becoming involved as a volunteer, serving on a nonprofit board or becoming involved in something political.”
Educational institutions like the Weatherhead School are actively seeking to attract new talent here by providing innovative programs that sell our city and the surrounding area.
“While [students] are here, we try to showcase the best of what we have to offer in and outside of the classroom,” says Sharma. “A positive engagement with the university hopefully means that they, too, will be ambassadors of the region. We not only need them to stay in Cleveland but also to relocate to other cities to spread the word about one of America’s best-kept secrets.”
During the application and on boarding process, Weatherhead makes sure the city of Cleveland is highlighted.
“We also collaborate with companies in the region during the recruiting and admissions process to attract applicants, as well as to show them the depth and diversity of opportunity in Northeast Ohio,” Sharma adds.
Retention: The tipping point
When it comes to retaining top talent, it’s not just about salary or the job experience, although those are prime decision criteria. Indeed, younger generations are notorious for changing companies and positions, switching jobs at an average of once every 1.8 years, according to Oeken.
“So continuing with a company or a region mainly has to do with a combination of the professional and personal situation of each individual,” says Finding. “It is difficult to find a job or career path that is really fun and satisfying in all respects.”
There is a “tipping point” when someone decides to call an area home for good. “It happens in the early 30s, when people start thinking about raising a family,” says Oeken. “That’s when people decide to come back to Cleveland, or when they decide to stay, due to low cost of living, family and friends.”
“It is when a young person’s professional aspirations intersect with their personal/family expectations and needs,” says Finding. “When an emerging leader finds their niche professionally with a company that is supportive of their professional and personal growth, then they are ready to put down roots.”
Job satisfaction plays a key role in any talent retention equation. An organization’s leadership has to embrace, prioritize and develop a culture where talent can thrive, stresses the ERC’s Keefe.
“You need to set clear objectives, and then coach and mentor employees,” says Keefe. “Then you need to get out of their way. Don’t be afraid of failure, let them be creative.”
There is a big difference between making mistakes, such as not checking the accuracy of work, or making mistakes because an employee tried to create a new process or grow a company into a new market, says Keefe, who likes to use the analogy between parenting and managing top talent.
“You can only play catch with them for so long before they must go out on field and perform,” she says. “An employee who launches a new product or service line that wasn’t successful may have learned a lot in the process, and the organization as a whole may have grown because of it.”
Training the existing workforce
Although there is a very real need to attract new talent to our area, there is, perhaps, a greater need to train our existing workforce for the future, a point expressed in the TeamNEO report.
“So, the question is, how do we skill up the region in a way that makes us competitive for the future of the economy?” posits Jacob Duritsky, vice president of strategy and research, TeamNEO. “The answer is to study the demand/supply alignment.”
The report does it in great detail, including a chart targeting the need for credentialed individuals in specific industries such as IT, manufacturing and construction, health, life sciences, education and engineering, finance and business services, and management, further breaking those fields down into specific jobs.
“Essentially, you see red where we are underproducing in terms of supplier demand for talent, and where you see yellow, we are overproducing,” Duritsky explains. “And where you see green, we have general alignment between supply and demand.”
The chart looks more like a “forest fire” than a “forest city,” meaning we are underproducing talent in more areas than not. We are underproducing in all IT jobs, all manufacturing and construction jobs and all financial and business services industries.
Health care is split, a balance of supply and demand with health technologies and technicians and overabundance of health care therapist aides and support workers. However, nurses are still in very high demand.
Life sciences/education and engineering is also a mixed bag, with a perfect balance of supply and demand for architects and engineering technicians, but an under-supply of education and engineers and an overabundance of life science workers. In management we have a balance of supervisors of skilled workers, but an overabundance of managers of professionals and health care workers.
Certainly, our secondary and post-secondary institutions such as the Weatherhead School of Management are working toward achieving the perfect balance in supply and demand of talent, so our local economy can realize optimum growth. Organizations such as the GCP, Cleveland Foundation, TeamNEO, ERC and Engage! Cleveland are also working toward the same goal. And although we are on the same path, there is still a journey ahead.
“A lot of companies are reaching out to different workforce-related organizations, and many are being very creative in terms of their solutions,” says Koehler. “But we really need to get after the problem and develop solutions that are lasting. We need to figure out which programs are strong and scalable and go after those.”
The challenge will be not just to train our existing workforce, but to make sure all of the organizations involved with developing talent and workforce are on the same page.