By Dean Whittaker

According to a national site selection firm, available labor is the #1 site selection factor in their decision making process. In order to attract and retain businesses, communities will need to demonstrate they either have the needed labor or have a process to attract the skilled people companies need.

Existing companies are struggling to find qualified workers in one of the tightest labor markets on record. Unemployment rates of 1-2% are common. Many of the workforce development efforts offer long-term solutions but, few, if any, address the immediate need to fill the vacant positions.

To begin to address the 9,000 open positions in the Evansville, IN region, the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana launched a Data-Driven Talent Acquisition Pilot Project in August of 2017. Two healthcare systems and three manufacturing firms participated in the pilot project. They were surveyed and it was determined that the two positions most difficult to fill were manufacturing maintenance mechanics and healthcare nurses.

The four-month pilot project was designed to allow us to test a new approach. The concept was to use layoff data from the Dept. of Labor Warn Notices, social media marketing and the services of a recruiter to identify and attract people from outside the region that have the critical skills needed and who faced an anticipated layoff by their current employer.

The pilot project resulted in the identified 185 people that expressed interest in the vacant position in Evansville. Of these, there were 70 maintenance mechanics and 30 nurses. A recruiter trained an economic development staff member how to follow up with each of the prospective candidates to determine their specific interests and skill sets. Qualified candidates were then forwarded to the hiring departments at the participating companies.

Hiring in a tight labor market has companies going to great lengths to improve their hiring process, clearly communicate their company culture, improve their on-boarding efforts, and boost their employee retention efforts. One company has dropped their drug-testing program. A few communities have set up talent attraction efforts. These efforts include: concierge services for new arrivals, special talent attraction websites, reimbursement of moving expenses, reduced rent deposits, partial payment of student loans, and signing bonuses. Current employees are paid a referral fee for new hires that they recommend.

With over 10,000 baby-boomer eligible to retire every day for the next twenty years, the tight labor market is likely be with us for a long time barring any major economic contraction.