The third post in our workforce development series, based on the research report Help Wanted by the National Center for the Middle Market and the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, describes the role partnerships can play in helping middle market companies solve their workforce challenges.

Good people are apparently hard to find. This is especially true for middle market firms, which are responsible for creating the lion’s share of new jobs, but often face unique challenges when it comes to accessing skilled talent to fill those positions. Part of the problem is low brand awareness; mid-sized firms simply don’t attract as many over-the-transom resumes as larger, more famous companies do. Additionally, middle market companies can lack a strategic HR focus and may have limited resources to dedicate to recruiting and retaining qualified candidates.

The Center’s latest research suggests that one way companies can overcome these challenges and find more people is by partnering up with other companies and programs in their industry or community. Such partnerships can bolster a company’s internal HR capabilities and give it more muscle when it comes to competing for talent.

Yet, few mid-sized organizations take advantage of this opportunity: only 30% partner with educational or training organizations, such as universities, community colleges, or technical schools. Even fewer work with business associations, trade groups, or other organizations to meet their workforce needs.

The research shows that companies that fail to partner may be missing out. One HR professional told the Center that her middle market firm fills about 60% of open jobs through its various partnerships. Here are some partnership opportunities you may want to consider to help your firm tap into more talent.

4 Partnerships Worth Pursuing

  1. strong>Local educational institutions. Educational partnerships also offer opportunities to build awareness of your firm among up-and-coming talent. Options include participating in campus job fairs, volunteering as a guest speaker in a class, or hosting students for a tour of your company. Some business schools even offer courses in which students study real company challenges and offer solutions, allowing your business to benefit from students’ ideas while you form relationships that may lead to future hires.
    Partnerships with schools can benefit your incumbent associates, too. Local educational institutions often provide training or skills building opportunities, including executive education courses.

  2. Local or national associations or trade groups. Only two out of 10 mid-sized firms leverage industry organizations to address their workforce needs. But these types of partnerships can be valuable in several ways. They provide a forum for collaborating with others in your industry that face similar pain points in the talent arena. If, for example, the entire industry suffers from poor perception among job seekers, or if training opportunities are in short supply in your industry, these organizations can be a good avenue for collectively solving the problems.
    Membership in these types of organizations is also a way to meet other professionals in your business who may be looking for new job opportunities today or down the road.

  3. Informal networking with other businesses. Relationships with other companies in your industry do not have to be formalized. However, these informal networks often take shape as the result of meeting other professionals through industry or trade groups.
    One HR leader told us that she has built relationships with HR professionals in her line of work by participating in an HR industry association. Now, if one of the companies in the ‘network’ is experiencing workforce reductions or layoffs, it lets the other organizations know so that they can have first dibs on potentially hiring some of the newly available workers.

  4. Public sector services and programs. Middle market firms can have trouble accessing programs that exist to help connect workers with jobs for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the programs are complex and difficult to navigate, or they don’t specifically cater to the needs of middle market companies. But these organizations should not be dismissed out of hand.
    These days, more and more states and localities are organizing their efforts around particular industry sectors, responding in part to the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). One way to find out if there is a program in your area specific to your industry is to partner with your local trade organization: they are the most likely to have the inside scoop on how best to work with public sector programs that specifically cater to your industry. In other words, one partnership can lead to another partnership, which can ultimately lead to more skilled workers for your business.

Learn more about how to address your workforce challenges.

For more ideas on how to compete for talent, download the Center’s full report, Help Wanted: How Middle Market Companies Can Address Workforce Challenges to Find and Develop the Talent They Need to Grow.


Next in this series
Post 4: Supplying the Demand: How Talent Development Resources Can Better Support Middle Market Needs

Others in this series
Post 1: Market Failure: Why the supply of talent falls short of demand in the Middle Market
Post 2: Five Ways Middle Market Firms Can Find and Keep Skilled Talent