CADILLAC – Employers have struggled to hire employees during the COVID-19 pandemic and even more so afterwards. With a young, enthusiastic workforce on the horizon, industry leaders attract them with training opportunities and a positive work environment.
The hallways of the Wexford-Missaukee ISD Career Tech Center were packed to the brim with program students and employers from the Cadillac area Tuesday morning. It’s been a few years since the CTC held its annual careers fair in person, but as COVID cases have eased, they’ve been able to pull it off.
Students were encouraged to dress professionally, bring their resumes, and practice networking skills like handshakes and maintaining eye contact. The companies and organizations present were specifically selected for their compatibility with CTC programming. They each had their own stand with applications, information brochures, free snacks and water for guest students.
Finding someone with the perfect qualifications wasn’t a top priority for Shelly Richardson, Human Resources Representative at Meijer. She said that working at Meijer is about getting employees a foot in the door and developing their skills on the job. It is not only optimal for students, but for people of all ages.
For those who want to relocate or start a college career, they also have the option of moving to another Meijer location. Meijer also has vacancies in several work categories that can help employees tailor their work to their interests.
“So, whether they like working with food, or they like working outside, or maybe the customer aspect of cashiering,” Richardson said.
“We could offer pretty much anything depending on what they like, so that’s a good advantage for us.”
Meijer recently upgraded its educational benefits for staff, and Richardson said she’s very excited to share the update with CTC students. From day one as a Meijer employee, anyone interested in pursuing their high school or bachelor’s degree can do so at select online universities at no additional cost.
One of the company’s key partnerships is with Purdue University Global, which can also be offered for free with Meijer’s Tuition Reimbursement and PUG Matching Scholarship.
“This could potentially mean that all of their education is paid for and they just have to be an active employee at Meijer,” Richardson said. “Whether that’s one shit a week, full-time, whatever they choose, so that’s definitely an advantage.”
The labor market is full of competition, not only for job seekers but also for employers. In Richardson’s experience, many students want to continue their education but don’t want to take out student loans. She hopes that the opportunity to combine training and a permanent job at Meijer will appeal to younger workers.
For Wesco, the ideal candidate is simply someone who is enthusiastic about coming to work. But they were also leaders with their educational offerings for employees.
“We love talking to kids about our college rewards program,” said manager Skylar LaFrance. “A lot of people here probably want to go to school, or they’re in school right now, either of them, so we’re happy to talk to them about it if they’re interested.”
Michelle Marciniak, Wesco’s associate assistance coordinator, attended the career fair with LaFrance and said the company believes in opportunity and growth for its employees. People often seek out Wesco for temp work, but end up staying for the long haul after seeing the investment the company makes in its employees. She said employees also get a chance to climb the ladder.
“Four of our top executives have worked at the store level and come from there and work their way up the ranks,” Marciniak said. “When you go to corporate headquarters, the first question is, what business are you from?”
In addition to professional growth, Marciniak and LaFrance say personal growth is a priority for Wesco. Tuition reimbursement helps attract young workers, but the pair believe the positive and encouraging environment is what drives people to return to Wesco for employment.
Work environment takes precedence over pay for CTC student Holden Light. Despite being a member of the Digital Media Program, Light has many career options open to him, and his top priority is a company that sees him as more than just a worker. More specifically, he would like an employer to pay more attention to mental health.
“I think every generation should be aware of this fact because it can be really crippling,” he said. “It helps. It’s definitely very helpful to know that an employer understands what you’re going through, or is able to help you understand it.”
A side effect of the pandemic has been a growing desire to work from home, and Light is fully supportive of companies offering remote opportunities. He, like many others, has heard recent complaints and concerns about people not wanting to return to work, but said the argument was somewhat unfounded.
“I think some employers think that working from home doesn’t want to work,” he said. “You’re still doing the work. They still contribute to the company, it’s just not at this location. I think people are willing to work, it just might not be exactly on site.”
Flexibility and consideration for employees are also important to CTC students Destiny Burns-Bowers and Kelsi Traxler. Both girls are part of the Hospitality, Retailing and Entrepreneurship (HRA) program and want to break into the field of culinary arts. As juniors, the two are not necessarily looking for a job, but wanted to practice dealing with employers and see what their future career opportunities could be.
“I think it’s a great experience of what networking is and learning,” said Burns-Bowers.
The day started with a lot of nervousness but after speaking to a handful of companies the nervousness eased. When she talks to prospective employers, Burns-Bowers says, she focuses on what the company’s values are and the benefits they can offer her.
It is important to Traxler that she feels needed in the workplace.
“If they need me for what I want to do, and not just for a menial job, that’s more of an asset to me,” she said. “Because then they actually need me there instead of just being there.”
Traxler and Burns-Bowers are currently enrolled in the CTC’s thirteenth-year program. When they complete the program, they’ll have an associate’s degree on their hands. From there, both students said they are excited to launch their careers and gain more culinary experience.