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Workforce shift requires companies to be agile, creative

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce recently shared ideas, tips, and strategies to attract and retain workforce talent. Expertise and insights provided by Debbie Seeger, Senior Vice President and Co-Founder, Patina Solutions. 

Finding and keeping good talent will continue to be a challenge for at least the next decade as significant shifts in the U.S. workforce are taking place: changes in generational work attitudes; an ever more global economy; companies re-sizing; and loss of experienced leaders and workers to retirement — it’s a Big Shift.  

Smart companies know they must get ahead of these challenges or they will not be an employer of choice as the competition heats up.

Every day Patina is talking with business leaders who are challenged by doing more with less.  Attracting the talent to help you not only grow, but to be cheaper, faster, better, smarter – is a huge challenge.  The need to be agile and creative amid a firehose of change has created an environment where smart companies are thinking differently about how they make their talent programs match their growth needs. Here are a few strategies I’ve seen companies implement.

Grow your own
One company I’ve worked with recognized that they could not face increased loss of business opportunities, so they decided to create a “greenhouse” to grow their own talent. They worked with representatives across all levels of the company and identified the biggest skills gap for new entry level employees and for current employees considered as future leaders. Then they determined which of the skills could be learned. English as a second language was a major barrier in this company, so they decided to offer English courses to their employees. It became so popular that they decided to invite guests of employees (parents, cousins, neighbors). They found that their employees who were learning English were having fewer on-the-job accidents and safety violations, were more conscientious, had improved morale and retention improved.  

Man to man coverage (women too…it’s just a sports analogy)
Another company decided that some of the skills gap it experienced was harder to address with traditional training programs (“soft skills” like work ethic, positive work attitude, being conscientious, etc.). They decided to implement a wrap-around program – or “Wrappers.” Each new hire is assigned another person in the company whose responsibility it is to mentor the person through their work experiences, and help build those soft skills into their core values. The Wrappers can help with any aspect that the new hire may find to be an obstacle: attendance; follow-through; quality; asking for direction; or having a crucial conversation. In this program, the new hire feels that there is someone rooting for them, expecting something of them, holding them accountable and helping them get the development they need. This company reports getting feedback from many of its younger employees that they’ve never had anyone support them like this – at all.  

Reverse mentoring
We all know that mentoring is becoming a staple in the development toolbox. But have you heard of “Reverse Mentoring?” I first heard of it at a large financial institution where they brought employees together from different generations for sessions to learn from each other. Millennials led interactive hands-on sessions on topics such as how to use social media or store your photos in the cloud. Some of the Boomers led sessions like the basics of Financial Planning and Saving in a 401K. This supports my long-held belief that everyone brings gifts and as leaders it’s our job to tap our gifts and apply them in the best way possible. It also puts the focus on the ways that each generation in the workforce can help each other instead of highlighting the differences.  

Start by doing one thing, today
If all of this seems too overwhelming, think about what you can do to just get something started, right now, right where you are today. A few things to consider:

  • Know the non-negotiable elements of retention and attraction for each segment of your workforce and how they rank in importance: pay, flexibility, pathway to promotion, development support, cause-related company mission. If you don’t know what they are, ask your employees.
  • Lean-in to the Gig Economy – use it as a strategy (not an after-thought) by first defining what talent your business needs to have at its core and focus your retention efforts there. Then investigate non-traditional ways to get things done in the non-core talent areas of the business.  Many times our clients tell us that the biggest value they get from bringing in someone from the outside is having a fresh set of eyes, fresh insight and another way to look at a problem. You should have a “buy, borrow or build” strategy that is right for your company to meet its goals and then it should be reviewed regularly so you can flex with the changing workforce dynamics.


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