Table of Experts: Workforce Planning (sponsored content)

courtesy of: Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal

The Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal held a panel discussion recently, featuring three experts to talk about the changing needs across industries for workforce planning.

Panelists included Mary Nutting, owner and president of CorTalent; Lisa Brezonik, chief talent officer for Salo; and Paul Bees, commercial banking recruiter at Midwest Financial Search Inc.

Connie Ireland, executive director of the Governor’s Workforce Development Council, served as moderator.

Ireland: Mary, what advice could you give young professionals in what they need to know about the workforce today?

Nutting: One of the things I’ve seen is that students graduating just don’t know what their options are out there. They hear about the Targets and the Best Buys, the big companies, but there are so many opportunities out there in the small and midsize market. I don’t think they really know what types of jobs are available. For instance, many graduates I talk to who are interested in a sales career have no idea of the vast amount of sales jobs available. They are so quick to gravitate towards the Fortune 500. However, there is a sales function in almost every company out there. Minnesota is a hot bed for thriving manufacturing companies and many have very lucrative sales roles available. So I advise just getting out and talking to professionals who are in the industry to understand what their options are.

Ireland: In particular with manufacturing, Mary, do you see additional obstacles for engaging in experiential learning?

Nutting: Absolutely. One of the problems I’ve seen, even for students who are getting their engineering degree, is that the skills are different than what’s out there in the businesses today. So companies are really struggling in how to get these new hires up to speed. What I’ve seen a lot of the more progressive businesses do is to partner with the colleges, and fund different educational programs. Arctic Cat is an example; they actually have snowmobiles in the colleges that the students can work on during their training. We need to do more of that.

Ireland: How should companies work with the younger generation as baby boomers are leaving the workforce and retiring?

Brezonik: I think what previous generations are looking for isn’t that different from what millennials are looking for now. They’re calling on us to be stronger leaders. They want to make sure they are valued, receive feedback, and that they understand their career path within a company — that’s what everyone wants. They’re pushing us to be stronger at the things we’re supposed to be doing.

Bees: Do you think they’re less patient, though?

Brezonik: At times.

Bees:“I’ve been here for three weeks, I should be vice president by now.” So how do you deal with that?

Brezonik: We handle it by having conversations and helping people understand: Here’s what it takes, and here are the skills you need to grow within the company. The tricky part is helping less experienced people understand that some of the best learning comes from the time in the job when you make mistakes. If you’ve only been in a role for six or 12 months, there are some opportunities to make mistakes that you just haven’t had yet, so you won’t learn those things. Endurance really is a great teacher.

Ireland: Have you seen success at companies when they look at mentorship models, between the exiting workforce and the new workforce?

Nutting: Yes, but we’ve got a long way to go. Everybody’s talking about it, but nobody really knows how to do it. Companies are so lean and people are doing their day jobs, and it takes a lot of time and investment to put onboarding, training and mentoring programs together. It needs to be done, but we have a long way to go.

Bees: I think there’s a lot of pressure on profitability. Typically, mentorship and training programs are not profitable. But by taking a short-term view from a profitability perspective, those companies will pay the price in the long run when they don’t have a trained and qualified workforce.

Brezonik: And with those programs, if you simply slap something together, it can cause more damage than it’s worth. Especially with mentoring, it’s important to take the time to figure out what you want to achieve. If you put the wrong two people together, it’s not going to help. Keep in mind that successful people aren’t necessarily good mentors. We need to create thoughtful and intentional programs to develop people. The younger generation is learning lessons from us, and if we’re not willing to listen to them and what they’re looking for, we create more problems than solutions.

Ireland: When we look at your role as intermediaries, between your two key customers — that is, individuals and employers — how has your work changed, given the future workforce shortage and the changing landscape of what Minnesota’s workforce looks like?

Bees: Employers come to us when they can’t find someone. So they’ve done their own searching internally, they’ve done some external looking around, and they have a set list of qualifications they’re looking for from us. We try to discuss with our clients some wiggle room in those qualifications, because in this day and age they’re not always going to find the perfect candidate. We try and educate them and explain that those kind of candidates are not as plentiful as they used to be, so you may want to look at candidate B. That’s one conversation we’ve had more often in the past 10 years or so.

Brezonik: Our clients come to us when something’s changing in their organizations — implementations, acquisitions, shifts in talent — and they need help navigating or driving the change. Those are both small and large changes. We’re seeing that the pace of change is increasing within many organizations. So we work with clients to help make that change successful and minimize the disruption that change can cause. It’s about the people and the skills you want to line up, but it’s also about setting goals and being clear about your intended outcomes. People are getting better at being clear on what the objective is with talent. It’s not just hard skills, but also soft skills.

Nutting: And hiring for aptitude. We just see so much more of that these days because of the skill gap. We use a lot of assessments, and do a lot of probing during the interview process to find out if they can handle the various skillsets required in the future.

Ireland: How do employers address that skills gap? We often hear about companies with a new engineer or someone in another professional occupation and they have to re-train them. They’ve graduated with an AAS or a bachelor’s degree, and they should be ready to go. How are companies addressing that?

Nutting: Internships. Every manufacturing company I work with has a very strong internship program, but they’re also doing apprenticeships, and they’re partnering with the colleges. In one case, one company has a professor on site at the organization.

They’re getting the educational training and then they go right out on the floor and put into action what they have learned. Companies are getting really proactive with their training programs and getting students that haven’t even graduated yet up to speed on their tools and technology.

Ireland: We hear more often than not that companies really do not project their workforce needs out more than six months. How do we become shareholders and educate employers that we need to be looking 10 years in the future? What do we do to change that?

Bees: Sometimes you have to be very direct. It’s asking, “What is your organization going to look like in 10 years, and how are you going to deal with it? Right now, you say, “A third of your senior management is going to retire in the next six years. How are you going to fix that? What are you going to do?” And they say, “Well, we’ll figure it out.” They ignore it. It’s denial.

Ireland: Do you think there’s an opportunity in other industry sectors that have experienced more of this rapid change? In the energy sector, for example, the need for replacement workers is huge.

Nutting: There’s a lot of talk out there about succession planning, and there are organizations that are trying to educate companies on the importance of having a succession plan in place. These companies know they will have a problem when a significant percentage of their workforce retires, but when you ask what they are doing to prepare for it you hear, “Gosh, I don’t have a plan for these retiring baby boomers.” That realization hits them hard.

Brezonik: Companies are starting to feel the pain of the baby boomer generation leaving, and there are more conversations going on now than even two years ago. Two years ago, you heard the term “workforce planning,” but it was a big company issue. And now the companies that don’t have a future state plan are aware they need to start the conversation, regardless of size. There’s a pain point that I think companies are feeling, and they’re trying to figure out how to solve it. The question is how long it’s going to take. But when you look at the seminars, symposiums, conversations, anything related to talent in the market, workforce planning is part of the conversation. Two years ago, it just wasn’t commonplace. Now it has become a necessary part of talent management.

Ireland: There’s some research that indicates that job changes are slowing down, that people are staying longer at a particular job. Are you seeing that trend, or are you seeing that every five years or less, people are moving on? Why do people change jobs?

Bees: Often, people change jobs because they feel like they’re not going to learn anything new, that they’re tapped out from a knowledge or leadership opportunity perspective. In some cases, change has happened at the organization and they don’t feel like they’ve been included or made a part of those changes. In some cases it’s changes in leadership, so their boss may have changed. I don’t think those reasons have changed, but it does seem that millennials are much less patient and want opportunities now whether or not they’re qualified for them. And the market is such that if they want to make a change, there’s change available and someone may tell them that you’re going to have more opportunity here. So the reasons haven’t changed, but the pace is changing. People retiring now, they’ve been with their company for 25 or 35 years, but it’s not uncommon to see resumes for people in their 30s with three or four changes. And they’re good changes, they make sense. But in the recent past, you wouldn’t have seen quite as many changes in someone’s resume.

Brezonik: Well, most people leave jobs when they’re not satisfied. The difference is that people’s level of expectation for what satisfaction looks like has changed. People were willing to be satisfied with a very different set of behaviors five or 10 years ago. Their expectation and standard for what they get in exchange for their hard work has changed, and if they don’t get it, they leave. When the role they desired or imagined doesn’t materialize, or it changes in a way they don’t like, you probably have six to 12 months to engage that person or they will start listening when people call about another job.

Ireland: Does the size of company matter in choosing a job?

Bees: I think some people prefer not to work in a large company. They prefer working in a smaller company, and I think some of that is driven by being a bigger fish in a smaller pond — they feel more empowered in a small organization, or they feel they might get lost in the month-to-month, quarter-to-quarter race that a large publicly traded company has to deal with. At smaller companies, they feel like they can get their arms around the company, and understand it better than if they went to a very large company and they were one in a million. But that’s a personal preference.

Ireland: A key component driving Minnesota’s workforce system is career pathways and opportunities for individuals to get on and off different ramps into different occupations and even across industry sectors. Are you seeing evidence of that work or common language from employers about career paths?

Brezonik: Absolutely, I have yet to talk to a client who doesn’t have this kind of concept right in front of their face. We know that people looking for roles right now, regardless of their generation, are interested in the best path for their career. They’re not just interested in right now, they’re looking to the future. They realize that may or may not be with the same company. So if you’re only willing to talk to a candidate or an employee about the role they’re doing right now, good luck keeping them, because they won’t stay long. That’s not new, but it’s definitely become more ingrained. It’s a shift to employees truly driving their career and not waiting for the company to do it. The companies that choose to support this and are supporting it with mentorships, coaching and development opportunities are finding and attracting the great talent.

Ireland: Do you think this is part of the solution for systems change and meeting the demand of the industry?

Bees: I do. They have to react to those changing desires of people coming into whatever industry. They have to focus on, not today’s job but what they’re going to do long term. There needs to be that ongoing career development and skills enhancement to keep people. Most people don’t change jobs thinking, well, this is where I’ll be for 20 years. They think, what am I going to learn in this new job? What will it look like in two years, and what new skills or new experiences will build my resume or knowledge base?

Ireland: Any last thoughts?

Nutting: We work with a number of ESOPs. Minnesota has one of the highest number of ESOPs in the country, and one thing that is driving that is the increased awareness of the positive impacts an ESOP has on its employee owners. In an ESOP organization, everyone sees the financials, and everyone knows what the strategic goals of the company are and what challenges they need to address together to meet those goals. It’s about transparency. I think a lot of other privately held organizations are trying to do that same thing; they’re trying to be more transparent, but it is expected in an ESOP company and that’s what our new workforce — young and old — want.

Brezonik: I would agree. I think transparency is an expected norm now. Everyone expects that if you have a question, you get a relatively transparent answer. If not, employees get concerned and unsure about whether they can trust the information, and therefore the company. Companies need to appreciate and accept the fact that transparency is here to stay. Employees have access to enough data points to ask questions when they perceive they are not getting it all.


Connie Ireland is executive director of Governor’s Workforce Development Council. She also has held various positions at the Minnesota Trade Office and Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. She has a Bachelor of Science from Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Lisa Brezonik is chief talent officer at Salo, a staffing and consulting firm that drives business outcomes in Minneapolis and Chicago by connecting clients to finance, accounting and human resources professionals. Prior to Salo, Brezonik owned her own executive coaching and organizational consulting firm and held numerous leadership roles within organizations such as Coram Healthcare, Room & Board, Integ and RBC Dain. She currently serves on the board of the Ann Bancroft Foundation.

Paul Bees is a commercial banking recruiter at Midwest Financial Search Inc. He grew up in Toronto and received his Bachelor of Arts in French from the University of Iowa. He has 10 years of commercial banking experience and 25 years in the executive search industry, including an assignment in Paris. Bees joined Midwest Financial Search in 2003 because the firm allowed him to focus his expertise and marketing entirely on one industry.

Mary Nutting is owner and president of CorTalent, a national recruitment consulting firm in Minnetonka. She helps growing companies find, select and retain top talent with an emphasis on culture and values fit. CorTalent’s expertise is in manufacturing and distribution, technology and sales as a discipline across all industries. Nutting has more than 30 years of business experience with the first half spent in a variety of management roles in IT and financial services. She worked for a global human capital company, helped create a new executive search practice and from there started her first recruiting company called MAIN Consulting.

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