How hard is the ‘big resignation’ hitting Traverse City employers?
It has been dubbed “The Great Resignation”, “The Great Shutdown” and “The Extraordinary Exodus”. Whatever you call it, the phenomenon is the same: According to a government report published in early January, more than 20 million Americans quit their jobs in the second half of 2021, including a record 4.5 million quits in November alone. The ticker Connected with local players to find out how this nationwide trend is hitting near you.
According to Rob Dickinson, regional manager of business services for Northwest Michigan Works, the organization has seen “incredible turnover lately” as it seeks to help local employers meet their hiring needs. Dickinson attributes the trend to a long list of factors, including early retirements, employee burnout, mental and physical health issues, a scarcity of childcare, and a shrinking job seeker market. allowed workers to explore what else is out there.
Manufacturers are in a particularly tough spot: Dickinson says they’re facing “unprecedented” turnover rates and realizing that old strategies for filling positions or retaining employees — raising wages and offering generous hours additional – no longer work.
“Quality of life and time spent away from work are now more important to employees than ever before,” says Dickinson. “Employees now reject overtime with overtime pay – and also reject second and third shifts, even if they offer higher pay – because time spent with family and friends outside of work now eclipses the salary.”
Don Howe, vice president of Century, Inc. and president of the Grand Traverse Area Manufacturing Council, says labor shortages are nothing new to local manufacturing. With so many manufacturers in the area — and so few local students pursuing post-secondary careers in the skilled trades — “Now Hiring” signs have become near-permanent fixtures in local industrial parks. Still, COVID has exacerbated the challenges, in part because companies like Century had to lay off good workers early in the pandemic, many of whom have since left the workforce.
“There were people who were close to retirement who had just come out,” Howe says. “Then there were families who [before COVID] had both a working mother and father. During the pandemic, one or the other was forced to work from home, or was laid off, and they realized, “We can make this work on one income.”
Paul Britten, founder and chairman of Britten Inc., echoed Howe’s comments. According to Britten, the company entered 2020 “full steam.” The COVID shutdowns wiped out the events business, which in turn wiped out Britten’s slate of projects. In the first year of the pandemic, Britten grew from 300 employees to 125. The company is back to 210 employees now, but Britten says the inevitable layoffs have left the door open for other companies to recruit talent basic.
“Many of our former employees and some of our best employees were recruited by companies much larger than ours,” says Britten. “Some were being offered a lot more money – in some cases $30,000 to $40,000 a year more – than we had always paid. So we lost wonderful people.
Between labor departures and employees who have been recruited by larger companies outside of the city, Howe says Northern Michigan’s manufacturing talent pool is now unsustainable.
“Essentially, we’re just stealing workers from each other,” Howe says. “But it’s a great time to be employed, because there are a lot of options for you to get around. And the countermeasure is that every manufacturer I’ve spoken to is looking internally to make sure they’re building the culture and creating the infrastructure to retain the people that they have.
The focus on employee culture and retention is also important for other industries. For David Ford, president of Traverse City-based Ford Insurance, a focus on culture has been a key part of the company’s drive to attract young workers to a profession that has always been biased the older ones. Over the past two and a half years, Ford says the company has “retired five people” aged 66 or older, or a quarter of its 20 employees. But by recruiting friends and family of existing employees, the agency was also able to build a strong base of employees in their 20s and 30s. This recruiting strategy relied heavily on the company’s culture, which emphasizes social gatherings outside of the workday, strong camaraderie among staff, and incentives for good performance.
Work culture and environment are also priority areas for Rehmann, the accounting, consulting and financial services firm with offices throughout Michigan and beyond. According to Steve Peacock, director of insurance services at Rehmann’s Traverse City office, one reason for the big resignation is how the embrace of remote working has made the competition for talent more global. To counter the additional competition, employers need to up their game.
“Right now, you could be living in Traverse City and working for an accounting firm in Los Angeles,” says Peacock. “And the pay scales on the coasts are higher than they are in the Midwest, which makes it very difficult for companies in the Midwest to compete if you’re competing with employers on the east and west coasts. So the question becomes, what do we do to be different?
At Rehmann, Peacock says the key to “being different” is the company’s focus on employee growth and development. Because Rehmann is a full-service accounting firm, the company offers a long list of services to its clients, from bookkeeping and auditing to tax planning and mergers and acquisitions assistance. . This variation also creates many options for employees, and rather than locking staff into their original department or specialty, Rehmann supports workers who want to learn new skills, train for promotions, or change careers altogether.
“We’re a big enough company to have a menu of options that people can follow,” says Peacock. “If they get bored doing one thing, they might want to try something else, but they stay with Rehmann. You might be 30 to 40 years into this job, and you might change your career path half a dozen times, but you never have to leave your work family. This helps us with recruitment and retention.
A common hypothesis around the Great Resignation? That employers chase staff by requiring vaccinations against COVID-19. So far, the statistics do not confirm this, at least not on a large scale. A recent study, conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, found that only five percent of unvaccinated workers — and about one percent of all workers — quit their jobs due to an employer vaccination mandate.