The Job  Market

by RaeAnne Marsh

“The Greater Phoenix Chamber’s economic development team talked to over 900 businesses last year with our partners and by far the biggest issue was workforce,” said Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Todd Sanders earlier this year, when discussing the Chamber’s legislative priorities for 2018.

Filling the Talent Pool

“Workforce” is sometimes referred to as a talent pool, and Valley resident Nick Murphy — who took his experience at CareerBuilder, Monster and to start his own thought leadership and career consulting services businesses Job Spot and Mid-America Careers and now hosts The Job Lab podcast — points out that “talent” is a dynamic term that shifts with current business needs. “While some businesses have a surplus of talent, other industries, like healthcare, IT and even retail, can’t find enough talent to staff their needs.” He has found that companies that commit to hiring the right persona for a role and work to align the employee’s motivation and needs to the job while training them on the details are better positioned than companies operating from a “here are the requirements” mindset. 

Noting, “Many businesses looking to relocate or expand would say accessing a solid talent pool is one of their greatest concerns,” Chris Camacho, president and CEO of Greater Phoenix Economic Council, points out the Greater Phoenix region features nationally ranked schools and globally renowned universities, all geared toward preparing a talented workforce for the in-demand jobs of today and tomorrow. “Companies moving here have access to students from more than 40 universities and other institutions of higher learning, producing hundreds of National Merit Scholar semifinalists each year. Most notably, ASU is ranked No. 5 in the nation for best-qualified graduates according to the Wall Street Journal, and is in the top 1 percent of the world’s most prestigious universities according to 2018 rankings announced by Times Higher Education.”

Not to mention a wealth of highly regarded schools with vocational training programs. Plus, organizations such as Arizona Women’s Education and Employment are also training to meet the needs of employers in particular industries: food, retail, hospitality and administrative, customer service, and banking. For instance, says Trina Jenkins, AWEE program director, “AWEE does offer a Bank Teller training to help meet the needs of our financial partners.” She adds, “AWEE does not have funding for vocational or college; however, we recognize that training is often needed on both employee and employer side, so we have established a partnership with the City of Phoenix where we are able to connect them to a City of Phoenix job center for training opportunities.” 

Camacho, observing that schools and career-based technology programs here are training students to meet the needs of employers in Greater Phoenix, points out Arizona has the fourth-highest concentration of aerospace manufacturing jobs in the nation and this workforce demand is being supported by Arizona State University and its engineering college — which is the largest in the country. “Additionally,” he says, “the Maricopa County Community College District is educating more than 250,000 students annually to support various career pathways, and the University of Phoenix is headquartered in the region offering campus and online-based degrees. On top of offering more than 200 academic programs, Grand Canyon University is home to the West Valley Cyber Warfare Range. The range is a perfect testament to providing hands-on learning experiences for students to fine-tune their skills before heading off into the post-college world.”

According to Sethuraman Panchanathan, executive vice president of ASU Knowledge Enterprise, in addition to just the numbers — 75,000 students on campus and 30,000 online, making ASU the largest provider of workforce here — ASU “provides all kinds of majors that are expected, that companies would need from an institution, and the quality and skill and diversity in terms of the students and potential employees that are required.”

But the best way of meeting the needs of employers, Panchanathan says, is to engage with them, asking: What is it that you need? What are the kinds of skill sets that you need? And not just ask them but be responsive to what they need. 

“What I’ve done at ASU is develop what they call a concierge service,” Panchanathan says. “When you have a large university like ASU, it’s a fantastic thing because you can get scale, quality and diversity of the candidate you are looking for. But at the same time, it can also make it harder for you to reach through the university when you want something, because there are so many touch points.” The concierge service enables companies to come to one point in the university. Perhaps they need 15 computer science graduates, 20 business school graduates, three humanists, and maybe two policy folks. “I navigate them inside the university to the appropriate talent.”

ASU also operates innovation campuses, such as SkySong in Scottsdale and others in Mesa, Phoenix and Chandler, developed, Panchanathan explains, to address “How might we have companies co-locate with ASU assets so that they might have much more of a synergistic relationship to get all that they need?”

To illustrate how ASU and businesses work together, Panchanathan relates an experience with Motorola. “Sixteen years ago, Motorola wanted to develop a new concept of embedded systems. I was chair of Computer Science and Engineering at that time. I engaged with a relationship with Motorola, visited with them over the technical managers and leaders, to ask, ‘What is it you wish you had?’ They said they wanted this, this and this skill sets in the students that come out of the university. So, immediately, we set up a consortium between Intel, Motorola and ASU and developed a completely new curriculum on embedded systems — internships, new curriculum design — in partnership with the companies, and they participated in the design also, and in different projects associated with those. It became a huge success.”

In addition to the curriculum design — in fact, what Panchanathan refers to as “more importantly” — ASU encourages the businesses to participate in offering a lecture or two at the university, mentor students and mentor projects. “It makes the skill sets more state-of-the-art,” Panchanathan says. “That’s why we have industry advisors in every school, where the industry comes in and participates in the curriculum reviews and gives them feedback in how the curriculum matches up in terms of the skill sets they need and what’s being produced in the units.”

Panchanathan will be launching a new program this fall — Practice Labs. “Companies can come and set up a presence at ASU so that they may have students and faculty working on their problems. For instance, if they want to create a prototype, they can have one or two people from the company engage with the lab and develop it together. They get good development outcomes as well as students who are well-trained in that so that they can come in and work for the company.” One of the first companies in the program will be Verde Solutions, an energy consulting firm.

The Market of Employment Opportunity

“With a host of career opportunities for students, 70 percent of ASU graduates remain in the state following graduation,” Camacho says, describing Greater Phoenix as one of the fastest-growing and dynamic metropolitan regions in the country, offering an excellent quality of life and low cost of living that further entices a vibrant workforce. “Our region is home to a variety of industries, such as advanced business services, aerospace, financial services, healthcare and biomedical, semiconductors, emerging tech and software. With low operating costs, low natural disaster risk and established infrastructure, Greater Phoenix also offers an ideal place for startups, data centers, headquarters and service centers to operate.

“During my tenure, GPEC has led the attraction of more than 322 companies, creating 55,617 jobs and $5.6 billion in capital investment. Recent graduates from all over the country have moved to Arizona to work at companies like Apple, Intel, Silicon Valley Bank, GoDaddy, Yelp, Amazon, Garmin, General Motors and many others. The business community here is expected to grow at a rapid pace over the next ten years. With numerous companies in the pipeline to relocate or expand in Greater Phoenix, college grads can be sure they will find a job in Greater Phoenix while business can be certain they will have access to a rich and robust talent pool.”

 Observes Murphy, “With the job market nearing full employment, today’s job seekers have options. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the thing many potential candidates want to know most is how your opportunity can move their career goals forward.” Whether they’re looking to move from a sales rep into management, add new areas of responsibility to their role or add new skills to their résumé, everyone wants to move forward. 

“If you can learn to focus on your unique advantages, you’ll be able to craft a story and employment brand that highlights the opportunities your roles offer,” Murphy says. There’s value in effectively communicating the opportunity for upward mobility to potential candidates — the opportunity for them to more quickly and efficiently expand their skillsets and responsibilities to move their careers forward.

Additionally, Murphy notes, “In today’s connected world, employers are running out of excuses to chain their employees to a desk for 40 hours per week. In most companies, at least some of the jobs could easily accommodate a flex arrangement of some kind.” Alternative work arrangements can take many forms. Some of the most common and attractive flexible work arrangements include half-day Fridays; working “Four 10s” (ten hours per day, four days per week); and remote, or work-from-home, opportunities. “The specific form your flex arrangement takes isn’t important. What is important is that you understand how meaningful a flex work schedule is to potential employees and include it as a part of your candidate messaging if you decide to offer one.”

Suggests Karen Pierce, executive coach, author and president of TKPierce, LTD, “As you offer more flexibility, your management style will need to be more creative and communicative. Start small, with a few positions in one area of your business, then re-evaluate, get input and expand from there. Demonstrating that work-life balance is important will show up in productivity, less absenteeism, more creativity and less turnover. All of which means fewer headaches for you, happier employees and a more successful business.” More than ever before, she observes, the 20- to 40-year-olds are interested in having a life and connecting to purpose; more than ever before, 40- to 60-year-olds are raising their kids and taking care of aging parents at the same time. 

Filling the Positions

“The greater Phoenix area continues to be a magnet for ambitious, talented, and generosity-minded entrepreneurs,” says Brian Mohr, co-founder of executive search firm Y Scouts. Observing that the local Phoenix economy, which was historically rooted in travel and real estate, has blossomed into a diverse ecosystem of both service and product-related businesses, he notes that as these businesses continue to grow and thrive, the need for new employees grows with it.

Recruiting and retention were among the top three business issues for 80 percent of the survey respondents in Enterprise Bank & Trust Think Tank survey released last month. Responding to an increasing need for companies to gauge staffing recruitment and retention practices, Enterprise Bank surveyed 110 of its corporate clients to learn of shared challenges and opportunities. The survey results provide rationale for what’s happening in today’s economy and offer solutions for achieving improved efficiency and financial goals. Says Jeff Friesen, president of Enterprise Bank & Trust’s Arizona Region, “Inefficient staffing practices directly influence the profitability of a company,”  

Addressing this, Murphy says, “The first thing that any hiring manger or business owner needs to understand about attracting talent is what today’s job seekers care about. According to a recent PwC survey, candidates’ career decisions revolve primarily around three things: opportunity for career growth, earning a competitive wage, and the availability of flexible or alternative work arrangements.” 

“Let’s take a look at the people in the workplace,” says Pierce. “It’s multigenerational, multicultural, millennial and more than half of the new college graduates are female.”

Pierce points out that women not only make up more than half the workforce but, unlike men, if they are the main breadwinner in the household, they are likely the main care giver. In addition, her experience is that most of women who are breadwinners are single-mothers. “If you are an employer who worries that single mothers may need more time off, are more distracted at work and less reliable, you might be surprised to know that they often are the most committed, productive and career-minded employees. They have to be! Their family depends on them.” 

There are many studies that show companies with a significant number of women leaders experience not only greater job satisfaction among all employees but more organizational dedication. And then there’s the financial bottom line: “A study of Fortune 500 companies showed that those with the highest percentage of women on their boards saw an average of 53-percent higher return on equity, 42-percent higher return on sales and 66-percent higher return on invested capital.”

Another force in the labor market is millennials, roughly one-third of the U.S. workforce. Says Pierce, “The No. 1 thing a female millennial is looking for in a company is the opportunity to advance. And millennials, in general, are desiring more interaction and collaboration — which are usually identified as female leadership traits. In a world of impersonal social media, they want to feel they are a valued part of the organization, able to question for understanding, encouraged to come up with new ideas and to continue learning. When they do well, they want to be recognized and are further motivated by it.”

Successful businesses, Pierce believes, will be those that find their “softer side” — attractive to women, millennial and multi-cultural candidates, who all are looking for this in their employers. “Bottom line is, a more considerate, compassionate culture means they have the opportunity for success.”

Not that pay doesn’t matter. “Unsurprisingly, all candidates want to be paid what they’re worth,” Murphy says, emphasizing that isn’t greed, it’s common sense. “However, the amount you pay your people should be driven by the market. And today’s market is a seeker’s market, meaning that submitting low-ball offers to great people is a big mistake. While it can be a painful realization that you may need to dish out more money than you originally planned, the cost of training and developing talent that leaves to earn more elsewhere is far more expensive.” A search online for similar jobs or a visit to sites like will give employers information to help them understand the current market rate for their jobs. 

However, Mohr points out, “Experts have been predicting the talent shortage, commonly referred to as the ‘War on Talent’, for many years, and the best companies recognize that in order to attract and retain the ‘A’ players, the singular focus on monetary incentives isn’t as effective as it once was.” Today’s employees demand a sense of purpose from their organizations, not just ‘corporate social responsibility.’ Employees want to feel a deep sense of pride in what their company stands for, and will flock to the organizations that inherently understand this concept.

The Enterprise Bank & Trust survey supports this position. It found that, while companies often do a good job of addressing the rational needs of employees — with salaries and bonuses ranked as the most effective way to address staffing issues among 53 percent of the respondents — what companies often fall short on are the emotional components. This involves thinking about a nurturing culture, which is subjective and different by industry but was mentioned frequently in the survey feedback. While some aspects of culture are about attitude and approach — being respectful, inclusive, communicative and trustworthy — other opportunities can be simple and fun.

SmartHealth CFO Dan Nahom told Enterprise Bank & Trust his Phoenix-based company has created benefits such as wellness programs, on-site nurse practitioners, a gym and an annual physical biometric evaluation. “We want to boost the sense of signing on for a career with us, not just the next job. We are always looking for ways to keep employees’ work interesting, motivating, and rewarding,” he concluded.

Similarly, at Phoenix-based SmartPractice, a family-owned health care services company, VP of Human Resources Michelle Shaw shared with Enterprise Bank & Trust that her company maintains a top-notch wellness program, including onsite clinic, gym, educational classes and counseling. “Our wellness benefits are a reason people come to us, and a reason people stay. We work hard to be innovative in retention so that joining SmartPractice is a career move, not just the next job.”

Finding the right people is far more challenging than retaining them or managing them, according to the Enterprise Bank & Trust survey. The most compelling statistic impacting staffing is that unemployment has fallen below 4 percent for the first time since 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. For smaller companies with under $1 million in revenue, 83 percent listed that finding the right people is the most challenging issue. Specific issues include the shift of employee expectations, especially among the millennials and underqualified workers that require additional training and skills development to meet job expectations. 

In addition, training and coaching ranked at the top for companies in both the $1-5 million and $5-50 million revenue ranges. Increased manager coaching was reported as the top tactic for companies with more than $100 million. While not ranking as high among small and mid-sized businesses, coaching is one of the tools being used to address staffing issues among all revenue brands. 

Workplace technology adds another layer of complexity for companies in an already fiercely competitive talent landscape, according to a Harvard Business Review Analytic Services report commissioned by Insight Enterprises that found 58 percent of respondents say their organization’s technology offerings factor into a candidate’s decision to take the position. Yet 51 percent say outdated and inadequate office technology impedes their ability to retain employees with high-value skills and experience.

Harvard’s report concluded that, to effectively build a connected workforce, appeal to candidates and reinforce employee loyalty, companies need to give their workforce control, with 63 percent of respondents identifying that they want more opportunities for self-service access to critical knowledge/data, followed by the ability to choose their own device (50 percent) and more self-service setup and installation of software and devices (45 percent).

“The workforce is increasingly tech-savvy and accustomed to highly personalized user experiences. Coupled with the fact that legacy systems are keeping modern technology out of the hands of employees, organizations have a real opportunity to tackle an IT strategy that helps them manage their IT better, facilitate transformation and create an IT environment that improves employees’ ability to do their jobs well,” says David Mayer, vice president and general manager of Connected Workforce at Insight. For many organizations, their current technology and IT environment is working against the business.


“The labor shortage is in a crisis. We’ve adjusted our recruiting strategy to include more high school graduates and we’ve also been running social media ads to reach potential employees,” Mike Brewer, president and CEO of The Brewer Companies, a leading local plumbing company for the commercial and residential industries, told Enterprise Bank & Trust. “Approximately 80 percent of my time is spent on building and developing the construction trade workforce.

“In response, we’ve recently hired a Training Program Manager to help us find and train talent. This person is a professional coach and educator and has direct connections to new graduates,” Brewer added. “Our company culture is attractive and we have many employees that have been with us for 10 to 20-plus years to prove it.” 

Says Pierce, “Words matter, and millennials, women and multiculturals are paying attention. If you want to attract the best people, you need to start with how you write a job posting. You get what you advertise for. Are you gender neutral? Do you use old-fashioned, good ’ol boy words like ‘go-getter’ and ‘do whatever it takes,’ or do you talk about ‘collaboration’ and ‘teamwork’?” 

The better route, she believes, is to make sure the qualifications listed for the job are the requirements, leaving off those that are not essential. “Women won’t apply for jobs they don’t have at least 80 percent of the qualifications listed already on their résumé. By contrast, men will apply with only 30 percent. Stick to a job posting that is clear, illustrates inclusiveness and team culture, and lists the minimum qualification requirements.” Including a line that says, “Do not to apply if all the above qualifications are not met” can help weed out the overexcited and under-qualified.

Mohr believes companies need to redefine their hiring processes. “Relying on keyword matching between a job description and a résumé will no longer suffice,” he says. “People are more than what’s written on their résumé, and the skills needed for the future of business are constantly evolving.” 

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