‘Bridging Michigan’s Workforce Divide:’ What Employers Really Want

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Lisa Baragar Katz gives tips to job seekers.

Lisa Baragar Katz gives tips to job seekers.

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By Lisa Baragar Katz

There is a new narrative for Southeast Michigan’s economy, and it’s about job growth. There were over 300,000 new online job postings across nine regional counties last year. Top industries for employer demand included advanced manufacturing (engineering accounted for 29,000 posted jobs, skilled trades accounted for 12,500 posted jobs), health care (29,800 posted jobs) and information technology (40,400 posted jobs).

Despite this demand, there are still too many unemployed individuals in the region. Roughly 10 percent of the job-seeking workforce cannot find jobs, and this does not include individuals who have dropped out of the labor force or cannot find optimal employment (e.g., right number of hours, pay, desired field, etc.). The short hand for this challenge is that there is a regional “skills gap.” There are simply not enough individuals who have the background, skills, and experience that align with the region’s job demand. Even for those with the perfect skill sets, finding the right job fit can be tough.

The Workforce Intelligence Network (WIN) is a partnership of Michigan Works! Agencies and community colleges that seeks to help employers find the talent they need for success. To achieve this mission, WIN engages employers from advanced manufacturing, health care, and IT to understand what they really want in new hires. Yes, employers are looking for an abundance of technical skills and experiences, but what do they really talk about? The basics. They want smart, creative people who can work with others…

Below are some key things that we have heard employers say that they want from their new hires.

Do what you love, love what you do

Employers want to know that you are passionate about the field to which you are applying. Passionate workers are most likely to do their best work and continue learning, especially important in rapidly changing fields like technology and engineering.

Get experience

Having a degree or a credential that shows the candidate understands theory and has acquired the technical skills to do the job at hand, but most employers want candidates with experience. This could mean on-the-job experience, an internship or externship, demonstrated work on a project, or even a hobby-type effort like creating an online app, repairing the family car, building a home computer, or other effort that shows passion for the type of work you hope to do.

Express yourself (clearly)

Jobseekers need to be able to articulate the technical skills they possess and how they have applied those skills in an applied setting. Being able to articulate this well can mean the difference between success and failure in an interview. Employers use behavioral interviewing now more than ever. This means a candidate must explain what they would do in a particular situation, be able to reflect back on past experiences, describe how they performed tasks, took action, or generated results. Jobseekers who can talk about their passion and experience—as well as what they might do in sticky situations—will rise above the competition.

Network

Attend events where employers in your desired field will be present. Introduce yourself. Invite a potential employer to connect one-on-one in an informational meeting. Even if the person you meet is not the hiring manager, they may know that person—make a good connection and ask for a referral. Also, be sure to take advantage of social media, like an industry-specific group on Linked IN. You will once again show your interest in the field and could get to know prospective employers better.

Do your homework

When you identify a company to which you plan to apply, be sure to learn everything you can about that business. Not only should you be able to ask pointed questions about the firm in an interview (and answer pointed questions), but you should also make sure the company’s employment needs align with your skill sets. Cultural fit is an important consideration as well: will you be comfortable if the company has a fast-paced, constantly changing environment?

Customize

Use this information to customize your application materials. Never use the exact same set of materials for each job to which you are applying. Let the reviewers know you are interested in their job by making sure your resume reflects background and experiences that align with the posting.

Follow-up

Be persistent (but not desperate) when it comes demonstrating your true interest in the job. Send an e-mail, make a phone call, but know when to say when. (It’s a good idea to ask the interviewer how they prefer your follow-up to occur.) Use snail mail to your advantage—send a note of thanks, it could help you stand out—and take the opportunity once again to express your interest and optimism about your future relationship with the company.

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Lisa Baragar Katz is executive director of the Workforce Intelligence Network (WIN) for Southeast Michigan. WIN, funded by the New Economy Initiative, is a consortium of seven Michigan Works! Agencies and eight community colleges fo

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