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Want to Create a Talent Pipeline? Here’s an Option that Works.

Steven Gillenwater

I took a call last spring from one of our pallet recycling facilities in the Midwest. They needed help hiring. The traditional things like social media ads, job boards, a sign on the building, and referrals from current employees weren’t working, and the facility manager had a slew of positions to fill.

That same week I got similar calls from facility managers in the South and Northeast. They, too, were hurting for people. Could I help?

As an HR guy, of course I can help; that’s my job. But in a growing economy, competition for employees is fierce, particularly in industries like ours that require people who are not afraid of physical labor. With 48forty in growth mode, my HR team needed to identify a more robust and standardized talent pipeline across the organization to keep our operations staffed.

Racking my brain, I thought of a childhood buddy of mine, Kevin Weeks, who is a business services manager with Michigan Works! in Detroit. A program of the U.S. Department of Labor, Michigan Works! helps match companies with employees that have the right skills and experience. Specifically, Kevin serves as a de facto recruiter, screener, and trainer of job candidates – at no cost to client companies. I sent him a text.

As Kevin explained how Michigan Works! works, I got excited. As a Michigan Works! client, we could tap into on-the-job training and apprenticeships. They’d also give us data on the surrounding job market, including salary and benefits information to ensure we were comparable with other companies competing for the same people.

Michigan Works! also helps employers take advantage of tax breaks for hiring certain populations like military veterans and provides funding for training and job readiness programs. So if we needed to hire forklift drivers for example, they’d underwrite the cost of training. We’d also have access to MiTalent.org, Michigan’s job and resume posting site.

What impressed me most about Michigan Works! is Kevin’s approach. His passion for connecting the right people and companies is real. So is his commitment to understanding a company’s nuances. 48forty’s jobs are physically demanding, but come with competitive pay, benefits, a 401(k), and paid vacation. These are things that make a difference to potential employees in search of a career rather than a job.

Thus the first step of our relationship with Michigan Works! had Kevin conducting an onsite fact-finding mission into our Detroit facility to learn about our hiring opportunities and challenges. This included talking with our manager and supervisors, touring the plant and chatting with current employees. I also spent time with him to immerse him into 48forty’s corporate culture and vision. He was a great student!


48forty is now in a pilot program with Michigan Works! If it’s as successful as we think it will be, there are similar federally funded programs in states across the country. Instead of job boards and help wanted signs, we’ll have the more structured, high-performing talent pipeline our 225 facilities across the U.S. and Canada need.

I can’t wait!