Keeping, attracting top quality workers critical to local economy

The current job seekers’ market means attracting and retaining the best workers is more important — and harder — than ever before, local and state experts said Wednesday.

That’s crucial to economic development because companies will not locate where they cannot be assured of finding the workforce they need, said J.P. Nauseef, president and CEO of JobsOhio, the state’s privatized economic development arm.

Only about 52 percent of Ohio’s college graduates stay in the state, said Nauseef, who spoke by video during the hybrid in-person and virtual Talent Attraction and Retention Forum held at Sinclair Community College. The event was sponsored by First Suburbs Consortium of Dayton and the National League of Cities.

“Defense is all about avoiding turnovers. But frankly our turnover rate is too high,” Nauseef said.

The forum included leaders from government, business, economic development, education, health care and nonprofit groups. The goal is to develop an understanding of the challenges and opportunities related to talent attraction and retention, and to develop solutions, said Jeff Marcell, senior partner at TIP Strategies, the Austin-based economic and workforce development consulting firm working on the project.

Panelists included officials from CareSource, Premier Health, Kettering Health, Montgomery and Mercer county economic development, the Downtown Dayton Partnership, the University of Dayton and area chambers of commerce.

The COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession exacerbated problems employers have long had finding qualified workers. There are 1.8 million fewer women in the workforce than before the pandemic, and 66 percent of people who are unemployed are considering changing occupations, according to a report by TIP Strategies.

“That is a great opportunity to maybe tap into that group” and others looking for a change, said Jennifer Todd-Goynes, senior consultant for TIP Strategies.

She urged companies to also focus on Generation Z, people born after 1996. She said about 70 percent of them decide on their future employer while in high school or early in college, and 75 percent would change their mind if provided more information.

Companies should be putting information about careers in high school guidance counselors’ offices, said Jared Ebbing, Mercer County community and economic development director. He said it’s important to reach young people where they are, and he is talking to human resources professionals about targeting young people using 30-second videos on TikTok and Snapchat.

In Butler and Warren counties, middle- and high school students are exposed to careers during Manufacturing Month and Health Care Month, said, Rick Pearce, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Middletown, Monroe, Trenton. He’s thinking of adding a Logistics and Distribution Month to the calendar.

The TIP study also found that 76 percent of employees and job seekers said a diverse workforce is important, and several panelists said their organizations had redoubled efforts around equity, diversity and inclusion.

Organizations should survey their employees to see what makes them happy and what they do not like, and to do exit interviews to find out why people are leaving, said Adele Johnson-Kebe, vice president and chief human resources officer at Dayton Children’s Hospital.

“(It’s) listening to our employees and then encouraging our business leaders to listen to what they’re saying,” said Beckie Schretter, vice president of talent strategy at CareSource “So we can find that happy balance between the needs of the business and the needs of the employees.”

“That’s really the important thing to help in the retention of our folks,” Schretter said.

Job candidates and existing employees want to work where they feel safe, have flexibility in their schedules, can work remotely and see a path to advancement, said Billie Lucente-Baker, vice president of human resources for support services at Premier Health.

“Almost immediately after starting, people are looking at the next best thing,” Lucente-Baker said.

Losing employees and then trying to replace them is time-consuming and expensive, said Derek Morgan, vice president of human resources at Kettering Health.

“Retention is not one and done. It’s an ongoing thing,” he said, noting that retention efforts should start with onboarding and connecting with a manager and then extend through the employee’s entire tenure.

Collaboration among businesses, government, schools, colleges and universities is crucial to coming up with solutions, according to those who spoke.

The Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce is working to help its member companies know what resources are in the community to assist them with their employee retention and attraction efforts, said Stephanie Keinath, the chamber’s vice president for strategic initiatives.

That effort includes promoting policies that help companies with issues like child care, diversity, equity and inclusion, the digital divide, immigration, veterans and working with the restored citizen population, she said.

Keinath said employers should work to make their employees feel connected to the community so that if someone leaves a company they at least remain in the region to find a job at another company.

“We need to move from a scarcity to an abundance mindset, being really aware of what already exists here,” Keinath said. “We are ultimately creating our own workforce.”

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