If 2020 taught us anything, it was the precious and fickle nature of talent. Just when we thought the U.S. was about to enter the new Roaring Twenties, all it took was one recession to remind everyone just how fragile the American economy can be.
When a global pandemic forced the shutdown of businesses all over the country, the folks who absorbed the brunt of the hit were American workers. At peak, 49 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last summer. That figure is a staggering 30% of the pre-pandemic nationwide labor force of 164.6 million workers.
Now that most businesses have returned to some level of operating, employers are faced with two new realities: the emergence and widespread adoption of remote work; and a workforce that is suddenly more mobile than ever. If you thought returning to normalcy was going to be easy, think again. The rules of talent attraction, recruitment and retention have changed, and only those companies that adapt to this new reality will thrive.
Here are five ways you can win the war for talent in 2021:
1. Locate your business in a place that attracts the most innovative talent.
LinkedIn’s Economic Graph Team recently conducted a study to determine the 10 U.S. cities that are the nation’s most thriving hubs of entrepreneurship. What they found was not surprising. The top five are San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Seattle. The next five were Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Denver, Austin, San Diego and Salt Lake City.
Together, these 10 cities have 56% of the nation’s entrepreneurs. That means your chances of hiring them greatly increase when you locate some portion of your business’s operations in one of these hubs. But that does not necessarily mean you want to move your headquarters there.
As LinkedIn editor-at-large George Anders notes, there are two emerging trends to keep an eye on: “flattening out of founder activity in the largest urban hubs; and an offsetting rise in entrepreneurial activity in cities that aren’t quite so prominent.”
And that leads us to point No. 2.
2. Locate your business in a place that attracts top talent but does so much more affordably than the dominant tech hubs.
Don’t pay more rent than you have to; and don’t ask your employees to pay more for housing than is necessary. Instead, consider locating operations in secondary markets that offer the best of both worlds — premium talent and affordability. These are places like Columbus, Ohio; Green Bay, Wisconsin; Lynchburg, Virginia; and Sacramento, California.
In Central Ohio, innovation is cropping up all over the Columbus region. Upstart, an artificial intelligence lending platform, recently announced plans to expand its workforce and current facility in Columbus. The firm will create 250 new jobs by hiring software engineers, data scientists and operations associates.
In a separate deal, Daugherty Business Solutions, an advisory services and technology consulting firm, announced plans to open a world-class Software Development Center in Columbus. The company will invest $1 million and create 100 new jobs, beginning with software development engineers.
“You can’t talk about the Columbus region without talking about The Ohio State University,” says David White, director of workforce and talent solutions for One Columbus, the region’s lead economic development entity. “You can’t overlook the power of having that massive university here. We keep over half of those grads in market. Many of those students are attracted to the job market here. We started building that momentum 10 years ago. A lot of the work we do is connecting this talent to good jobs.”
3. Adopt a plan for how you will recruit and retain the best workers.
All four of the secondary markets listed above do this with regularity. Barb LaMue, president and CEO of New North Inc., the economic development organization serving Greater Green Bay, says her team recently launched a campaign titled “More You in NEW.” The NEW stands for Northeast Wisconsin.
“This program highlights the benefits of choosing careers based in Northeast Wisconsin,” LaMue says. “We are doing this initiative to help in talent recruitment. The idea behind this campaign is that when you come here, there is more time for you, more resources for you, etc. If you want to make a social impact, you can do that here. The ‘More You’ speaks to that.”
A Harvard grad and attorney from India moved to Manitowoc to “run a company in our region,” says LaMue. “He likes the fact that his children can go to the park and they don’t have to worry about safety concerns.”
New North Inc. is also working on talent retention, she adds. “The schools here work with local industries to provide hands-on learning. There is no charge for a business to get on this platform. It allows for job shadowing, internships and externships.”
With 13 four-year campuses and 16 technical colleges in the University of Wisconsin system, Wisconsin has no shortage of education and train-ing options for young people and adults of all ages. The result? A total of 94.6% of New North region college grads remain in the state after graduation.
4. Engage portions of your area’s workforce you may have overlooked.
Most companies overlook groups like military veterans and former prison inmates when it’s time to hire. That’s a big mistake, says Rebecca Kleefisch, jobs ambassador for Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin.
“Veterans and former inmates make some of our best workers in the construction trades, and they can be trained to excel in other occupations,” says Kleefisch, a former Wisconsin lieutenant governor. “They just need someone to give them a chance and train them.”
Another group that’s being increasingly forgotten are female workers with children. According to the St. Louis Federal Reserve Board, more than 1 million American women left the workforce in early fall of 2020. Why? Many chose to stay home to supervise their kids’ online learning as school districts across the country elected to go all-virtual.
That labor force exodus occurred even as single men gained almost 1.2 million new jobs in the U.S. during that same time period. For employers in almost every field, this means that more than half of the available talent is going unhired.
5. Listen to your employees and learn from them.
Perhaps the best example of an engaged workforce can be found at your local truck stop. Yep, you read that correctly.
Pilot Company recently was ranked No. 1 in the large employer category for the Knox News and Knox.biz Top Workplaces 2020 survey of businesses in East Tennessee. The Knoxville-based company has gas stations across the country, and it’s currently seeking to add 120 new hires to its operations at its headquarters plant.
“We talk about company culture and values a lot at Pilot Company because we are fostering an environment that puts our team members and guests first,” said Paul Stone, chief people officer at Pilot.
Pilot is expanding its nationwide workforce even as it’s hiring diverse talent in Knoxville. The company’s Sales and Support Center has 120 open jobs in areas such as IT, data analytics, guest services, help desk, logistics, inside sales and warehousing.
Pilot has been named to the Top Workplaces list every year since 2017. Top Workplaces rankings are determined by Energage, a third party that distributes surveys to employees that rate multiple metrics of organizational success, including workplace culture.