Sheri Welsh

The KzooConnect Story

Companies have long understood the importance of differentiating their brand for consumers and clients. But the need to win the hearts and minds of employees is a relatively new concept for many employers. This was the message from Sheri Welsh, president of Welsh & Associates executive search & professional recruiting services, who spoke at the March 11 InterCom 2nd Friday event. Welsh introduced attendees to The KzooConnect Story, a case study of corporate branding and talent recruitment through storytelling.

KzooConnect is a magazine-style blog that highlights positive news about the Kalamazoo region. Welsh & Associates launched it in 2013 as a way to keep professionals connected to the region, especially those in the Millennial age-group, which is quickly becoming the largest age demographic in the workforce.

With Western, Kalamazoo College and Kalamazoo Valley all here in the region, Welsh said we’re graduating talented young people with skills and expertise that local companies can benefit from. Many leave, which is what young people do.

It’s natural for young people to want to leave the nest, move away and explore the world, Welsh said. That’s OK, but when they’re ready to think about settling down, we want them to know that the place they once called home is filled with opportunities for them.

To keep these young folks engaged and informed, KzooConnect offers stories about the people and places that make southwest Michigan a great place to live, work and play.

The Talent Dilemma

Welsh said the idea for KzooConnect started to develop before the recession hit.

Experts like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and a slew of economists predicted a looming talent shortage of major portions.

And although unemployment skyrocketed during the recession, it remained relatively low for professionals aged 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree. (Today, unemployment for that group is at its lowest rate in years, even here, in the Kalamazoo region.)

As a leader in human resources management, Welsh often spoke to business executives who lamented the challenges of bringing top talent to the region. If you’ve grown up here or lived here for any length of time you know it’s a great place to live, they said. How do we bring those folks back, and how do we attract people who have never been here and know nothing about the region?

The human resource landscape held other challenges. Among the trends were:

  • The aging of America, which will lead to 60 million Boomer exiting the market in the next two decades
  • The 40 million Millennials entering the job market
  • The prediction that Millennials ” as employees ” will be unlike generations past and are expected to have 15-20 jobs over their lifetime
  • The shortage of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) talent
  • The emergency of technology as a driver in the hiring process, with social media becoming the dominant method of job seeking ” which demands that companies follow suit with an online hiring presence

A Community’s Future Depends on Top Talent

At about the same time, something called a talent community was emerging within the human resources sector. Talent communities are company-sponsored blogs that keep employees, and prospective employees engaged with a company’s culture, subtly extolling all the great reasons why top professionals would want to work there.

Welsh, who is always looking for broad solutions that support all her clients, wondered if a talent community could work at a larger scale ” a scale big enough to benefit the region. When she tested the idea with community leaders, she found there was strong support. Kalamazoo Public School graduates, for example ” those graduating with and using the Kalamazoo Promise to attend college ” were among the sought-after young talent that community leaders wanted to keep engaged. The idea had strong, broad support.

KzooConnect

Welsh turned to LKF Marketing to help design and launch KzooConnect, which has been growing in visitors, shares and reach ever since. A big part of the blog’s appeal is its story-telling aspect. It features regular articles by and about young professionals engaged in work they love. It offers insight into the entrepreneurial and artisan culture of the region. And it highlights the area’s short commutes, local music scene and close-by nature.

For Welsh, the effort is in many ways a labor of love and a way to give back to the community. But there are benefits, too. KzooConnect has furthered the company’s growing reputation as a thought leader in talent management. And in this way, the blog has been a brand differentiator for W&A among the company’s clients.

If you missed this presentation at InterCom, you can still catch Sheri Welsh and The KzooConnect Story. Sheri will be speaking April 13, 11:30 “ 1 p.m. at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation Winter Garden as part of Social Media Week. Register here.