“Competition for talent is fierce,” says Andrea Applegate, president of Applegate Talent Strategies.
Over two decades of experience on both sides of the workforce development equation has given Applegate a unique perspective to start her own consulting practice that’s transforming businesses into great places to work. It’s a competitive edge in attracting and retaining the right talent it today’s tight market.
Applegate spent a dozen years at the Columbus Chamber of Commerce, working with employers on staffing challenges like hard-to-fill positions and addressing skill gaps. Through the Chamber, Applegate also had a hand in community-wide initiatives that address the workforce gap from different angles, like ColumbusInternships.com and the live work play Columbus campaign.
When Applegate left the Chamber, she took on various leadership roles in nonprofits providing services to job seekers, including IT-focused training program Per Scholas. It was these dual perspectives that she says, “Helped me see that there was a gap between what employers need and what they were expecting, and what the workforce “system” was providing.”
Through Applegate Talent Strategies, she’ll work to bridge that gap one client at a time.
Doing it on her own offers a new perspective.
“This lends me the freedom and the flexibility to be able to have difficult conversations with employers, but those conversations that people need to have in order to make change and make a difference,” Applegate says.
Workforce and talent challenges are among the top issues business owners consistently face.
“It’s a fear of the unknown,” Applegate says.
Business owners fear not having enough or the right workers to do a job. And when trying to solve these conundrums, Applegate says business owners normally focus too much on external factors – the economy, unemployment rate, immigration, outsourcing, globalization, etc. All things a business can’t control. Applegate turns attentions to the factors a business owner can control: things like recruiting practices, attitudes, retaining the right employees and rewarding those employees.
“I want to help them create a deep bench of effective leaders for the future,” Applegate says.
She drops her knowledge on businesses with about 10 – 100 employees. While many larger companies have the resources to implement workforce development strategies, many smaller to mid-sized companies feel it’s out of their reach. Applegate says it’s not, especially when considering the three levers.
She outlines three factors that employers can manipulate to make employment appealing to potential workers. Lever one is the elements that go into making a compensation package: salary, bonuses, insurance, vacation, etc. The second lever is environment and culture: opportunities for advancement, training, equipment, policies and the like. The third is the accommodation of work and home responsibilities. Applegate avoids the jargony “work-life balance.” The term makes it seem frivolous, when those responsibilities are anything but.
“If you, as an employer, expect your worker to make a choice between you, the employer, and their family, they are probably going to choose their family,” Applegate says.
There’s no magic formula but, “Each employer has the ability to manipulate those to make it right for their business,” Applegate says.
No matter where the levers land, Applegate finds many employees are universally looking for the same thing: everybody wants to do inspiring work and feel valued and respected while doing that work. If employers can do those basic things for an employee, that worker will often reward the employer with commitment and loyalty.
Many people have probably read an article about “inspiring” work being the hallmark of millennials’ desires, and the generation is shaping the workforce, but those feelings are something almost everyone hopes for in a job.
Applegate says her three-step process has been well-received, if not educational.
“It’s eye-opening for managers to think differently about how to engage with their workforce,” she says.
Every engagement begins with the discovery phase, or an evaluation of what’s really happening in the business. Applegate says oftentimes there’s a big gap between what executives think and what employees on the floor have to say. She uses that information to craft solutions specific to the challenges each employer is facing (the next step of the process). The Industrial Age, one-size fits all model of treating all employees the same is becoming obsolete. In fact, Applegate says what’s really needed it today’s workforce is a hyper-personalized, hyper-customized approach to each employee.
Step three is delivery. Applegate works with managers and HR departments to provide the training and new tools that will help employees do their work better. One of the biggest and easiest changes in the delivery? Communication. Better communication between employers and employees often doesn’t cost anything at all and can have some of the most profound impact.