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Opinion: How Springfield can win talent wars

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In case you haven’t noticed the supply chain interruptions, the businesses who are closed when they are normally open or the aggressive help-wanted advertisements throughout the city, there is a shortage of workers right now. This shortage isn’t caused by the pandemic. It’s actually caused by demographic trends. In short, it takes about 20 years to make a worker, and we didn’t make enough. There are more jobs available out there than there are workers, and this is a trend that will continue through the 2020s.

At the same time, we are experiencing another trend in the workforce known as the “Great Resignation.” More people are quitting their jobs right now than at any time this century. In 2021, about 2.4% of the workforce quit their jobs each month, according to federal employment data. With unemployment remaining low, people are obviously finding new jobs.

These two trends are colliding to create a real talent war for employers. The bottom line is that there aren’t enough workers, so some businesses are going to win and others are going to lose. I often use the analogy of a grizzly bear wandering into a camp full of campers. The bear is hungry, and the bear can outrun any of the campers. The bear is going to eat one of the campers. So, the obvious strategy if you can’t outrun the bear is to outrun the other campers.

But maybe there is an alternative.

What if Springfield employers decided to rally around the idea of making Springfield an unusually amazing place to work?

Imagine for a minute a community that is known for innovative and engaging employment practices. Springfield could become a place where workers see the best benefits packages, the best working conditions, the best training and the best organizational culture. Workers select places to work like patrons select wine in Sonoma Valley; it’s all good – just pick your favorite flavor.

Imagine a community where every worker finds more than a place to make a living, but they find a place where they can apply their own talents and skills with clarity and purpose. Not only would our citizens have a better quality of life, but our businesses would be more successful and, yes, more profitable.

I’m talking about highly skilled managers who lead leaders, not followers. I’m talking about embracing flexible work practices such as open time-off policies. I’m talking about working with employees to help them to build financial security for themselves and their families. I’m talking about creating community engagement opportunities to help employees connect closely with our community.

What if Springfield became so well known as being the best place to work that we attracted national attention? What if other businesses were to come to Springfield to learn about the innovative methods employed to engage and align employees? What if organizations from around the world sent their leaders to Springfield to get trained? What if people looking for something better started moving to Springfield because they wanted more than a job, and instead they wanted a better life?

Before you think this is an abstract dream, think about what a community would need to pull off something like this.

It would need to be the home of innovative thought leaders who are challenging the norms of how people work. Check!

We have organizations such as The Great Game of Business and other business consultants whose systems are already implemented on a national and global scale. We have programs like Community Engagement in a Box and Leadership Springfield that help businesses connect workers with the community.

It would need a strong, collaborative business network. Check!

We have one of the best chamber of commerce organizations in the country with members who are used to working together to solve problems. We have strong civic groups that provide places where business leaders collaborate regularly.

It would need entrepreneurs who are willing to take some risks and implement experimental and proven, but less traditional, employment practices. Check!

Springfield has a thriving entrepreneurial community who are challenging norms in multiple industries.

The workforce shortages and mass resignations are going to be devastating to some organizations and even communities. However, maybe Springfield is in the right position to take advantage of this situation to build on our identity while doing something great for our citizens and our businesses.

Let’s make Springfield a weirdly wonderful place to work. Who is with me?

Don Harkey is the owner and CEO of People Centric Consulting Group. He can be reached at


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