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Published in Talent

Talent First launches rebrand, talent solutions series 

BY Wednesday, August 24, 2022 05:10pm

The former CEO alliance known as Talent 2025 has rebranded as Talent First Inc., unveiled a fresh strategic initiative and will soon launch a five-part program designed to address employers’ needs amid a quickly evolving workforce. 

Talent First CEO Kevin Stotts said the five-part Talent Solutions Series will bring together West Michigan’s “leading minds and best-performing practitioners” to help bolster the region’s momentum in attracting talent.

Kevin Stotts. COURTESY PHOTO

The series kicks off in October, with each segment focused on one of the five strategies that Talent First created to attract and retain workforce talent. Segments feature: “Hiring for attitude, training for skills” on Oct. 14; “Upskilling your workforce” on Nov. 9; “Embracing automation and A.I.” on Dec. 15; “Establishing talent pipelines” on Jan. 11, 2023; and “Employer branding” on Feb. 15, 2023

“We are excited to share insights from experts but also other local business owners that are getting results by changing their practices,” Stotts told MiBiz

Founded in 2011 to address the skills gap in the wake of the Great Recession, Talent First deploys a working-group model to enhance West Michigan’s talent pool by identifying issues and opportunities and determining actions. The organization now includes 120 CEO members and eight working groups that address topics including K-12, higher education, workforce diversity and inclusion, and talent demand. 

The name change and rebrand is driven by a renewed commitment to addressing issues plaguing the workforce — and an acknowledgment of having achieved its original goal to have 65 percent of West Michigan’s workforce possess a postsecondary education credential by 2025. 

After achieving the goal, Stotts asked CEO members whether the organization should push further. The answer was a resounding “yes.”

“Education, workforce issues, talent issues are very complex,” Stotts said. “We see new challenges emerging from the pandemic, and we need to address the accelerated restructuring of the workforce.”

Michigan’s roughly 60 percent labor participation rate ranks 41st in the nation. As Millenials supplant Baby Boomers, preferences among workers are changing and demand flexibility, social responsibility, and mentorship from employers. 

However, the generational shift in workplace values is just a small factor driving the state’s low labor force participation rate, Stotts said. In 2017, Talent 2025 identified access to childcare, transportation, and education as the top three factors barriers for workers. 

“These are issues that every state is facing and are unique to the United States,” Stotts said. “We are excited to bring policy recommendations at a state level as well as to employers.”

Equipping CEOs

Rhonda Huisman, partner at West Michigan-based accounting, consulting and technology firm Crow LLP, also serves as a CEO Council member of Talent First. 

Huisman is involved in the organization’s workforce diversity and inclusion working group. She says that Talent First has been hugely supportive in equipping CEOs to address the difficulties of COVID-19. 

“There have been many challenges over the past few years and there have been some really challenging conversations that needed to happen,” Huisman said. “They were really helpful in figuring out how to have those conversations within our organization. I found that to be hugely beneficial in having hard, raw conversations.” 

Mike Jandernoa, founder and chairperson of 42 North Partners LLC and also a Talent Forward CEO Council member, echoes those sentiments. 

“Talent First does an outstanding job of engaging CEOs to really work to share their best practices on hiring talent in terms of recruiting and attracting as well as retaining existing talent and looking at all these various (issues), and they aren’t all compensation issues,” Jandernoa said. 

More than a decade ago, Jandernoa — the former CEO of Perrigo Co. plc from 1988 to 2000 — also founded a mentoring program for emerging CEOs. Jandernoa Entrepreneurial Mentoring provides mentoring to executives who are running a growing private company with at least $1 million in annual revenue, want to improve their leadership skills, and see significant growth potential for the business and want to grow professionally. Late last year, the program had graduated 77 business executives from banking, health care, manufacturing, technology and other sectors, as MiBiz previously reported.

Jandernoa said Talent First helps CEOs understand the factors that make employees want to work at a company.

“It’s the quality of the work, the culture, flexibility — so it has been an opportunity for each of us to learn how different approaches can help,” Jandernoa said of Talent First. “CEOs need to focus on the talent they have today and the talent they are going to need tomorrow.” 

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