BLOG: How Corporate Social Responsibility Strategies Can Attract Business Talent in Michigan


In recent years, both public and private sector leaders in Michigan have grown familiar with the conversations about the “brain drain” problem and the need to create competitive advantages over other places like Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston. Research shows that the jobs of tomorrow’s economy will require a mix of technical skill, advanced education, and global knowledge.

The demand for such skills is rapidly spreading through all sectors of the global marketplace. This is especially true for businesses which integrate science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and other high-skilled fields. This is a priority which we are still wrapping our arms around as a region in the Midwest.

As we look beyond 2017, many Michigan companies are realizing the need to focus more intently on talent attraction and retention. This practice also promotes the business sector’s willingness to fundamentally secure the region’s critical high growth verticals. There is no question when you take a hard look at the data that in today’s knowledge-based economy in areas such as Grand Rapids and Detroit, there is a significant opportunity to further strengthen global corporate positioning in business units like manufacturing, design, and research. I believe that one way to further attract and retain talent across all business sectors is the utilization of effective corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives and authentic employee engagement in local communities.

Attracting and retaining talent from the millennial generation has been a significant challenge for many businesses in Michigan. As a result, we are seeing new strategies emerge in Detroit and across southeast Michigan. Just visit popular downtown areas which are now designing and installing bike-able pathways, trolley/trains, and urban gathering areas in order to continue to support the interests of professional residents who are expressing a desire to live and work in the state. This attention to detail is a must in order to attract and retain a diverse workforce.

As an employer, whether you are a small, middle market, or a Fortune 500 corporation, it is important to know what will appeal to the current cohort of prospective employees and adjust your recruiting, communication, engagement, and training practices accordingly. How do you address such a shift? By adapting to more “progressive” ways of thinking, by understanding that these individuals bring diversity to their workplaces and the communities in which they live, and by creating authentic opportunities for personal growth. When these practices or similar tactics are implemented, Michigan companies will be able attract, develop, and retain skilled talent and ultimately future leaders which will significantly boost our regional ecosystem and our shared economy.

The savviest job seekers today want to clearly understand how the work they are doing (both in the office and in the community) impacts their organization as a whole, and how their ideas can be communicated and potentially implemented in order to increase efficiency, production, and sales. Helping employees and recruits understand how the company’s community engagement practices support the corporate strategy will allow Michigan employers to promote a diversified work experience and impact the community in which it operates. Today’s employees thrive on this type of broad work experience. Internal job experiences and a robust corporate social responsibility strategy which provides meaningful experiences enhances the work experience and can improve the retention level of corporate talent. This is the new model for corporate success in America.

So what do Michigan businesses need to do in order to attract and retain talent? How can Detroit based companies capitalize on these trends?

  • Utilize technology to both share and demonstrate team experiences. Highlight your company’s community and CSR projects. This will also strengthen your corporate brand and perhaps lead directly to product sales and more engaged customers. Social media platforms, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, are all important tools for supporting this strategy because employees can directly connect, share content, and provide personal insights to their experiences.
  • Articulate your corporate mission on your website. Your company’s career page will likely be the first place people look for information. They will look for your mission statement, benefits, and anything else they want to know about your company. Use this area of your website to emphasize your company’s participation in corporate philanthropy in the community. A business that can offer employees opportunities for career growth as well as personal improvement will have a major advantage in recruiting and retaining the best talent.
  • Integrate social responsibility with your brand. Show the impact that your company is making locally or globally. Make sure candidates know that you consider social impact an important part of your workplace culture. Also, link the company’s giving efforts and community participation to your organizational values and specific product lines.
  • Prepare your recruiters, trainers, and communications teams. Make sure your company’s external relations members understand that they need to sell the company’s CSR initiatives to candidates and the community. Recruiters should be trained on all of the policies, and should be capable of demonstrating these elements to candidates.

In my opinion, corporate philanthropy is an additional asset that Michigan companies should consider in order to attract and retain employees in today’s competitive environment. Often times, corporate social responsibility programs are the deciding factor when a candidate is juggling multiple job offers and is trying to figure out which would be the best career move. Millennials in particular, who are passionate about social impact, are likely to become your company’s CSR champions of the future. It’s time for Michigan companies (especially those in Detroit) to embrace these practices and continue to push the needle to develop a stronger regional economy and a more robust workforce.

Chris Polk is a senior fundraising executive and principal at Detroit-based Forté Management Group Inc., an advisor at Boulevard, and a frequent contributor to DBusiness Daily News.