Talent Initiatives in West Michigan


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Join Cindy Brown, Vice President of Talent Initiatives at the Right Place, as she discusses finding and retaining talent, trade schools and how Michigan will move forward in the years to come. Money, I’m Home!






00:06 Lynne Jarman-Johnson: Money, I’m home. Welcome on in, I’m Lynne Jarman-Johnson with Consumers Credit Union. You ever wonder about talent. Well, today we are going to talk to you about talent that you have inside yourself, but also the talent that you can bring to the table for your employee or the employers who need really, really good talent in West Michigan. Our organization, Consumers Credit Union, is really proud to put on these podcasts because we get to introduce you to people who you know what, they have really awesome jobs. Cindy Brown is with us; she is the Vice President of Talent Acquisition with The Right Place.


00:45 Cindy Brown: Talent Initiatives.


00:46 Lynne: Talent Initiatives.


00:48 Cindy: Right, but you can say that.


00:48 Lynne: I can say acquisition.


00:49 Cindy: You can do that. I’ll take another title.


00:53 Lynne: Acquisition, Initiatives.




00:53 Lynne: She already has another title. Cindy, I have been blessed to know you for many, many years.


00:57 Cindy: Right.


00:58 Lynne: And really have watched you in your career and watched you build others up in their careers, which is an awesome, awesome, thing. So first off, thank you so much for you taking the time to be with us today.


01:10 Cindy: Oh, this is fantastic, and thanks for doing what you’re doing. As we’ve been sitting here just hearing some of the other podcasts and that. You do an amazing job, Lynne. I was very happy to know you.




01:20 Lynne: Thank you, Cindy. Seriously, when we talk about The Right Place, it is an organization in West Michigan that I’ve watched for years. I ran my own business for 21 years, and I’ve always been fascinated at the intention of organizations like The Right Place to really build up companies to help get great talent.


01:46 Cindy: Absolutely, absolutely, yeah. No, and The Right Place has been around for over 30 years, and it’s comparable, obviously, to Southwest Michigan First in the Kalamazoo area, and the organization, The Right Place, we’ve had a tremendous leader, CEO since almost the beginning, Birgit Klohs, who came from Germany, and there’s a lot of great success with a lot of manufacturing companies in Germany, apprenticeships those types of things. So she brings a lot of knowledge to her position. And in the last, we’ve actually been housed in The Right Place as a strategic partner when I was with Hello West Michigan.


02:25 Cindy: We’ve been there for over three years, and to learn and everything and anything they do was amazing. I never thought I would learn everything that The Right Place does because it’s exactly what you’re talking about, where it builds companies up. If a company has an issue trying to grow, the business development reps at The Right Place will go in and have a conversation, find out what would be needed to have that organization grow or expand. And if they can help in any way to connect them with the right municipalities or whoever they need help with or what they need help with, then that’s what they do. And it’s a way to help support those organizations that are right there in the local community to get them to grow and expand.


03:07 Lynne: And then there’s a small percentage, 15% that is coming from the outside. So, of course, you want to also attract companies to the area. And that’s the fun part. So, the hard work is the current employers, making sure that they’re good and helping them with any issues and all of that, but the fun and what people see in media is, oh my gosh, California Closets moved to Grand Rapids a year and a half ago. They didn’t bring very many people, but it was a cool thing to hear that, and that’s an interesting kind of play because that is that balance where we want Terryberry to stay. And they did, and they expanded. And we want other organizations to stay and expand, and they do as well, so that’s kind of that balance that they have.


03:47 Lynne: I do love the fact that you bring up the point of collaboration and making West Michigan grow. When you mentioned southwest Michigan first or Lake Shore advantage and all of the organizations that collaborate together to try to have companies themselves grow, but then that knowledge of, here’s what we have here, here’s where you can locate and bring your talents to bring others in.


04:17 Cindy: Exactly.


04:18 Lynne: So now that you are in The Right Place and you’ve got a… It’s a big title, it’s a big job. Tell me what your day-to-day like.


04:28 Cindy: So it’s kind of interesting. So, I’ve held the full-time position of VP of Talent since January 1st. And prior to that, I had that role as part-time as well as executive rector of Hello West Michigan. So we moved over as a strategic partner, so that was three years ago, and at that time, The Right Place didn’t really have anyone focused solely on talent. So when I had the opportunity to move over when we moved our organization over, Birgit asked if I would sit on her leadership team as that role. So for the first three years, it was great. I don’t even remember what happened. I mean, it was crazy.


05:02 Lynne: Busy, fast, and fun.


05:03 Cindy: Right, it was focusing on talent attraction and retention with Hello West Michigan, but then also trying to get in deep with overall talent and start helping convene and start helping to support organizations that are working in the K-12 space, or the higher ed space, or the incumbent worker space. And so that has continued now, but I’m doing it full-time, so an average day is a lot of meetings where we’re able to… I’m able to go… I sit on West Michigan Work’s Board, Goodwill’s board, Grand Rapids, where I can go and hear and see what’s going on through training dollars, or what we can do to help that work-ready talent get stronger and better. But then I’m also involved with other organizations that are really involved with that K-12, and what needs to happen by third grader, fourth grade, or fifth grade so that we have really good successful people once they graduate. And then a little bit of both because I’m still a little bit involved with Hello West Michigan as well.


05:58 Lynne: Well, I think the neat part about it is that you really took a continuum of making sure that it’s not just about a company’s perspective, but it’s also about an individual’s perspective.


06:10 Cindy: Absolutely.


06:10 Lynne: So, you look at an unemployment here in West Michigan and you shake your head and then you hear the words “talent shortage” and, “Well, we just don’t have the right kind of talent.” You’re looking at numbers and looking fast forward. Does it scare you a little bit?


06:27 Cindy: Well, unemployment is going to be cyclical a little bit, and with recessions and all of those types of things. But we did lose a lot of people in West Michigan and Michigan through the last one. So, we do have to focus and it’s great that organizations in the different parts of the regions are doing talent attraction. Because if we know it and we know that we need people, why not have something that’s there to help with that year-round and that we have a strategy for long-term growth to get more people on board. With the current talent, there’s talent there and that’s the thing.


07:02 Cindy: When you hear talent, it’s like Lazy Boy. When you see a recliner everybody says Lazy Boy, right? So, the first thing when someone… When you ask an employer, what’s your challenges to grow? A lot of it is talent. But we have to dig deeper and find out what is that. Is it that your turnover is really high? If that’s the case, then it might be more about engagement and what are we doing internally at our organizations to help make sure that our employees are having fun. Do they have a cool building? Do they have amenities? Do they feel like they belong? Whatever it is. And then we also have to look at it and say, “Is it a lack of skills? Are our job postings right? Are we even posting our jobs? Are we making sure that we have a good internship program or apprenticeship program? Are we connecting with our colleges and universities to try to get that talent?” Because we have a lot of college students. It’s not as much as it used to be, but there’s a lot of college students. There are 77,000 around the Grand Rapids area.


07:57 Cindy: We have to figure a way to keep them. And one of the things too is with talent is when’s the last time we’ve ever asked anybody to stay or come home? Or if they’re going through their process, have we ever just shared with them all the different opportunities they could do if they have the skills that they have. And I think that’s where we’re a little slow to react or be proactive is we’re not giving kids and students and even incumbent workers the opportunity to see all the different opportunities. If I have this skill, I could work in these 30 places. Back in the day, if you were marketing you went into marketing. If you were…


08:32 Lynne: And you didn’t even think about it.


08:34 Cindy: No. There’s no… And you did your job, and it was great. And now there’s how many job descriptions that say marketing or digital marketing or sales or whatever? And so you don’t have to have that marketing degree. You could have a different experience with it. So are we telling people, are we educating people on all the different opportunities that are out there?


08:53 Lynne: I think one of the greatest educations that you bring to the table at The Right Place is you have really in-depth conversations, whether they be at the investor breakfast or at the tables that you’re sitting at. They’re in-depth conversations about some of the issues that companies who are growing face, companies who are stagnant face. My son graduated from Grand Rapids Community College, and he is an apprenticeship, got a phenomenal job, but was a perfect example of someone who just had never thought of trades. It wasn’t something that came to the… It was just always go to college and come home or go out.


09:38 Cindy: Exactly.


09:39 Lynne: But I think what you’re doing is showcasing how much opportunity there is out there for any level.


09:47 Cindy: Well, that’s… I always joke about that. When someone retires, I get super excited for him. If they’re working with us, I’m sad of course because there’s probably a really good person. But you get excited. Because that’s why we work. We work to pay the bills, and then we work so we can spend that time with our family, and retire, and all of that. That’s the goal. And when you’ve got people that are trying to make their decision, I always ask them, “Where do you see yourself in 15-20 years? What is success to you? When you think of yourself, at 50 or 45, is it that you have a family and kids and is it that you can coach, is you can do these different things? Well, you have to… Then you have to figure out your career path to be able to do those things.” And I, I… Gosh, there’s so many opportunities. I remember I was talking to my young nephew trying to talk to him about some skill trades opportunities and my niece just… She shook her head. And I go, “What’s wrong?” And she goes, “I can’t believe welders make that amount of money.” And I’m like, “But you have to drive on a bridge. There’s buildings. So we go into buildings. We will never not have those.” And I know you’re supposed to say two negatives. But we’re never going to not have those…


10:51 Lynne: Not never.


10:52 Cindy: Never, right? Electricians, plumbers, all these people, these different types of positions. We’re going to need them. And the interesting thing about a lot of those skill trades is there’s an honest-to-God career path.


11:04 Lynne: Yes.


11:05 Cindy: There is… You know your career path if you get into any of those positions, whether you jump to another company or whatever. But a lot of us, I’m on my fourth career now. I never thought that would happen, but I am. Different companies, different things. It’s just different.


11:21 Lynne: So, what is… When you say that, I’m on my fourth career path, is that…


11:24 Cindy: You didn’t think I was that old, did you?




11:27 Lynne: Not even close.




11:28 Lynne: [11:28] 40 under 40.




11:31 Lynne: When you look at saying I’m on my fourth career path, don’t you find that interesting? Back when I was growing up, when I was younger in a family that had a individual who was… My dad was a great executive at Lear-Seigler, which is not even Lear-Seigler anymore. It’s now Smiths. But back then, it was loyalty, loyalty, loyalty.


11:57 Cindy: Absolutely. Absolutely.


11:57 Lynne: I mean, you wouldn’t even think of saying that I’m going to turn and have another career path because that meant you’re jumping probably to another organization.


12:06 Cindy: Absolutely. Absolutely.


12:07 Lynne: What a difference in a decade.


12:08 Cindy: Absolutely. And my first gig was 16 years, and my position was eliminated. And wow, what a…


12:18 Lynne: You woke up and went, “What?”


12:19 Cindy: Wow. And I actually had a company car. So, I joke, I was a country song, “I lost my job, my car, and I had to put my dog down that day too.” So that was like the saddest day of my life because… When you’re working, you put all of it into it and you sell your family on the choices that you’ve made on why you stay even through the bad and the good. And so you sell them. So then when they do that to you, you’re just like, “Wow, what happened?”


12:45 Lynne: That was my family.


12:47 Cindy: Absolutely. And working as many hours as we did at that organization. Absolutely that was, because you’re there all the time, all the time. Yeah. So then to move… And this happens to a lot of people all the time right now because there’s companies that are making choices and that… What do they do next? What do they do next and where do you go in those skills that you’ve learned somewhere? How do you… How do you learn how to sell them? Sell your skills to those companies that are… Look, I always joke. So there’s… The company is a circle peg and we’re a square. How do we mesh? How do we mesh those two things? And it can hurt you. Physically, you just get depressed if you can’t figure out a way to do that. So giving people choices, letting them know there are so many different opportunities will help us. It helps…


13:34 Lynne: It has to be a joy to you to be able to do that.


13:36 Cindy: Well, but people have to listen? And we also have to realize we didn’t get into this situation overnight. We told people to only go to college for a very long time. And you were looked down on, even today, my same nephew that I was talking about graduated a year and a half ago at his high school graduation, not in Michigan, the high school principal talked about all the kids going to college. He did not talk about the skill trades kids. He didn’t.


14:01 Cindy: And wow. Why not? Even today, in 2016, or 2017, why not do that? And we didn’t get into this overnight. So we’re all in this together. It takes all of us to sit there. And I’m never going to tell somebody not to move away. I went to Disney for an internship. It was the most… I was only there five months. It was the best part of my life, my best part of my working life ever. I’m never going to tell somebody not to go take on those opportunities or to go to Chicago or go live somewhere else and come back.


14:34 Lynne: Where they might have a dream and come back. Yeah.


14:35 Cindy: Absolutely. Because there are so many life lessons and so many things you’re going to learn. So it’s not that we’re telling people to stay. It’s like, “You can stay because there’s opportunity here, if you choose that you want to.” But if not, you don’t see those opportunities, go somewhere else. Or you want to try something new, you go do it and come back.” But we all have to talk to everybody about it. I bet you if every person in West Michigan talked to one person and said, “Come back or stay.” I don’t know about that talent issue. I don’t know about that anymore.


15:03 Lynne: That is a great way to end. I’m going to tell you one really… I don’t know if you saw this in the news or not. There was a high school that did a signing day for trades.


15:13 Cindy: See.


15:13 Lynne: And that was so cool. I was like, “Why don’t we do that for everything? Not just trades, not just sports, not just… Really make a big deal out of what you can do and what you… ”


15:24 Cindy: If someone starts a business.


15:26 Lynne: Exactly. Yeah.


15:27 Cindy: All those things. I mean it’s cool.


15:30 Lynne: It is.


15:31 Cindy: Thank you so much.


15:32 Lynne: Thanks Lynne.


15:33 Cindy: The time just flew by.


15:34 Lynne: This is great.


15:35 Cindy: Thank you so much to have you back. Cindy Brown with The Right Place. And I’m Lynne Jarman-Johnson with Consumers Credit Union. We’re very proud to partner with The Right Place and we would love you to participate too. If you have a company that’s interested in becoming a part, just give The Right Place a call.


15:51 Lynne: Thanks Lynne.


15:51 Cindy: Money, I’m home, with Consumers Credit Union. From finance to fitness, we’ve got you covered.

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