HR Professionals as Michigan's Allies

One Michigan official wants to gather public and private human resource professionals at least once a year to help strengthen the state's workforce.
by | September 15, 2010

Heather Kerrigan

Heather Kerrigan is a GOVERNING contributor. She pens the monthly Public Workforce column and contributes to the print magazine.

Michigan officials want to reduce its brain drain problem as much as possible. The easy solution is to place people in available jobs, but bigger challenges arise: How do human resources professionals attract recent college grads and established professionals to Michigan jobs? How can HR professionals make sure employees and employers -- from both the public and private sector -- are happy with their benefits and work environment?

Jeremy Stephens, state personnel director for the Michigan Civil Service Commission, saw an opportunity for the state to partner with HR professionals to recruit and hire people to Michigan jobs. This past year, the state declared August 12 as Human Resources Day. Professionals from the public and private sectors came to Lansing to take part in the first Michigan HR Day, where participants were encouraged to share best practices in recruitment and retention. What emerged from that meeting was a network of professionals that can assist one another in strengthening the state's public and private workforce.

Jeremy has spent the last year gathering support for Michigan HR Day and hopes he can bring the state's HR professionals together at least once a year. I spoke with him about how Michigan can use the HR community as a state ally in this edited transcript.

How was the idea for a statewide HR conference first developed?

We put together a strategic plan for the Michigan Civil Service Commission, and what we wanted to do was focus on solidifying human resources as a strategic business partner within the state of Michigan. One of the ideas was to reach out to all HR professionals in our state and work together to find out how we could leverage our position to attract and retain talent. Basically, if we had an opportunity for someone to work in the state, but I did not have a job available, I could reach out to another organization with an opening and direct them somewhere else rather than lose talent.

After a two-week registration [period], we had 450 people respond. There were another 50 or so on a waiting list, and at least 100 that we had to turn away. We had every seat in the house filled for the event.

What were some of your goals in developing Michigan HR Day?

I wanted to help our folks look outside of state government and see what other ideas in HR were being implemented, and bring some of those ideas back to us to be more efficient and more effective.

One of the important things is to introduce lean concepts to the state, which we introduced about a year ago. Within our HR group, we've been able to make some significant improvements within our structure. We have implemented an online application system. This has dramatically improved our time to fill positions. We have developed a system we call ROCSS (Re-engineering of Classification Selections System) which incorporates workflow technology to route human resource requests electronically. We have also developed a system we call PARIS (Position Action Request Process) which allows position descriptions to be done electronically. These systems have allowed us to become much more efficient and more cost effective.

Through this event, I also wanted to build the relationship with colleges and universities. [The Michigan Career Educator & Employer Alliance] is a group of all colleges and universities in our state, and we wanted to build a relationship to help direct students to stay for jobs.

What this group is trying to do is reach out to employers in the state to let them know there is a resource available to them to promote internships and job opportunities. I've gotten involved because we currently have 52,000 working for the state, and in three to five years, 42 percent are eligible to retire. We will have significant staffing needs. It's very important to build those relationships right now to funnel those people into the pipeline. The message I've sent to the schools is that I don't want to show up at a job fair once per year and then walk away.

As an HR professional, everybody should be utilizing these [resources] and getting people excited about staying in our state.

How long did it take to get Michigan HR Day up and running?

It took a good year of discussion of whether or not we wanted to do it, and the amazing thing is that we pulled it off in about three months.

Who did you have to get buy-in from and how did you get it?

We built the event as a grassroots campaign. We reached out to some of the large employers in the state and asked them for their help, and we had several organizations that really stepped up to the plate and used their client lists to reach out to other employers. As I said, we did a lot of grassroots campaigning, developed a Facebook page and we did a lot on LinkedIn. We sent out lists we had compiled of addresses of businesses.

I wanted it to be a grassroots campaign, something people wanted to do because they were passionate about it. I didn't want it to be a sales or marketing campaign. It was about working together as a profession.

What was the structure of the day?

We wanted to hear how companies were viewing HR professionals. The really neat thing we did was the afternoon breakout sessions. We had Michigan companies' HR professionals come and talk about what they were doing. We had large companies like Kellogg and Carhartt come and talk about best practices and share those.

We've also created a website. The goal of the website is to use it as a place to bring all of HR together in our state to work together, share ideas and best practices. On the website, we'll soon be launching a job board where our goal is to have all HR jobs that are open in the state posted, allowing users to go to one spot and know where all of the HR positions are available.

I'm a big believer that HR can drive the bottom line. This was a chance for us to work together to try to do that and be that business partner. HR is much more than just planning parties and cookouts -- it's really about trying to help our profession be more than doing just that.

How was the event funded?

The entire day was funded through sponsors, and the state of Michigan didn't spend any money on this. This was not funded by the government; it was funded by all private donors. We tried to do it for free. I didn't want to charge anybody, but we ended up charging $30 per person to be able to cover lunch.

I also didn't want it to feel like a sales thing, so we really only had a couple of sales people around the room, with products they wanted to sell.

What feedback have you received since August?

The feedback has been 100 percent positive -- everyone thought this was a great idea. The businesses really showed their support by letting their HR professionals come. People thought it was a good idea. And since that day, attendees say it is something they want to do every year. Everyone thinks it can really make a difference. The networking and groups that have formed are really taking off.

To continue the discussion, we also invited the most senior HR professionals at key businesses in the state and had a little roundtable. We started looking at: What can we do? What is our takeaway? What special things can we do for the state? That hasn't taken off a lot yet but I hope it will. We can put a business plan together so we can be a partner with all of the businesses in Michigan to really help bring the state back.

What is your ultimate goal of bringing these HR professionals together?

First, we want to make sure that if anybody, regardless of their industry, has a way to do things that could help other HR professionals, we want that information to be shared and those tools to be used successfully.

Second, we all want to work together to make sure we're keeping our talent in the state and making sure we're funneling people to the appropriate jobs. I just got an e-mail from a high-level researcher at state university, and his wife was looking for a job. Now, there is a network of 400 people that we can send it around to and let people know that someone highly qualified is coming to the state and we can find a job for them.

What it really boils down to is everyone can help do something to help the state. Why can't HR as a whole be a catalyst for bringing jobs back and keeping talent in the state? I just think it's a neat chance for government to take a lead. I don't think it's ever been done before in the nation, and it helps our citizens and leverages our profession to make a difference.


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