By Dean Whittaker

We are entering a time when recruiting and retaining people will become as important or more important than attracting companies. If we cannot fill the open positions (click here to see yours) that our companies have now, then, why are we trying to recruit new employers to compete for the limited labor supply? Where I live, in Holland, MI, there are 5,556 open positions today, of which 1,134 are in production work.

Recruiting People (talent) is much like recruiting companies. We develop targeted profiles of the person we wish to attract, which includes geographic, demographic, and psychographic information about the person. We focus on those individual that have the skills needed to fill the open positions in the community, much like targeting companies in specific industries that we want to attract.

With companies, we look for changes that are likely to participate a need to relocate or expand. For people, we look for changes going on in the skilled workers life such a pending layoff or business closure. Then, we look to see if they have a previous connection to the community such as family, friends, had previous local employment or are alumni of local educational institutions. All of this is possible using the features within social media marketing tools such as Facebook and LinkedIn along with a database of layoff notices.

Social media marketing, especially with Facebook, is a numbers game. The idea is to reach a large potential audience by putting ads in their timeline or their LinkedIn newsfeed. A 1-2% response click-through can result in significant numbers when considering that there are 530 million LinkedIn users that login at least once per month. For example, a search on LinkedIn of one firm’s open positions resulted in over 17,000 potential applicants. Filtering for a local connection reduced the number 1,700. Adding pending layoffs will reduce the pool of candidates significantly.

LinkedIn offers a tool called Recruiter that allows for very precise targeting to generate a group of individuals that fit our target profile. LinkedIn InMail can be used to send a person a direct message inviting them to apply for available positions and offering them concierge relocation assistance. Incentives may be offered such as reimbursement of moving expenses, low interest mortgages, student loan repayment, first/last month’s rent, and others.

Company interviews and community visits can be scheduled just as in recruiting companies. Once the person has applied for a position at a local firm, the hiring process is begun. Unfortunately, many firms are not set up to recruit people but rather to screen applicants. Here’s a typical hiring process.

We tend to treat applicants as if there were an endless supply of them waiting to join our organization. To be successful at recruiting people with the necessary skills will require a significant shift in our approach. Many of the current hiring processes take weeks, if not months, to complete. Few high-demand applicants will wait more than a week or two before moving on to another firm.

So, what’s it all mean? In my opinion, it means economic development is headed towards a paradigm shift away from recruiting companies and towards recruiting people with sought after skills. Otherwise, our existing companies will need to look elsewhere for the people they need. It also means that a community’s greatest asset is its people and the skills they possess. At some point in the future, companies will pay communities for the right to access their talent pool. Stay tuned.