Metro Detroit firms get creative in IT hiring

Employers, schools team up to attract, train skilled workers

Christine Snyder| The Detroit News

When Secure-24 announced Wednesday that it received an unspecified private equity growth investment and is looking to fill more than 70 information technology jobs, the Southfield-based company had a plan for recruiting more local applicants.

The firm of 285 employees said it is “already aggressively recruiting from Michigan-based universities” and has scheduled its first big employment fair Oct. 23 at its headquarters. Secure-24, which plans to hire another 170 to 200 workers in the next year, is trying to fill the gap in part by hiring new college graduates, assigning them a mentor and putting them through an 18-month training course, said co-CEO Mike Jennings.

“Hopefully, this will produce big results,” he said.

Secure-24 is one of many Metro Detroit companies that are looking for creative ways to increase a local talent pool with a shortage of qualified IT workers.

“Demand is huge, and I think that in southeastern Michigan, the news is that we have in the past year doubled the requests (for IT workers) compared to Silicon Valley,” said Alysia Green, director for talent development for Automation Alley, a technology business group in Troy.

The shortage led Quicken Loans Inc., Compuware Ventures, GalaxE.Solutions and Marketing Associates to sponsor a pilot program with Wayne County Community College District and Wayne State University called “IT in the D,” which this summer brought 25 IT students into their businesses for two-and-a-half months and gave them a taste of real-life work experience.

“We see there was a gap between what is needed in the market and what the market can offer to businesses and companies,” said Linglong He, chief information officer at Detroit-based Quicken Loans, the online mortgage company. “We also wanted to help professionals get a job and keep talent here.”

Quicken Loans hired at least two graduates from the program.

The program is one of the best examples in the state of employer-driven strategies to attract, recruit and train IT workers, said Jonathan Younkman, talent strategies manager for IT and media at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the public-private agency.

Creative strategies like IT in the D will be more common as the demand of IT talent outstrips the supply, employment experts said.

“Michigan is tough,” said Andrew Watt, CEO of iTalent LLC, a Troy placement firm that specializes in IT.

Watt said he spends a lot of time “educating customers” about their need to move quickly in hiring candidates.

“It may feel a little pushy, but they need to understand the market and be ready to go,” Watt said. “The mindset in Michigan is unemployment is high, we just came out of a recession, and it shouldn’t be like that. Well, it is like that.”

Michigan’s auto industry is a double-edge sword for recruiting IT workers. The advanced technology attracts engineering talent, but auto bankruptcies in the past three years prompted many engineers to steer away from the state.

Infosys, an India-based technology consulting firm with offices in Southfield, is in Metro Detroit largely because of the auto industry, said Rohit Kedia, associate vice president and Americas head of the automotive division.

Infosys has met its employment quotas by targeting and cross-training engineers, Kedia said .

“Sometimes those people are not trained in IT,” he said, “but we still look for engineering skills, and we train those people around software engineering and different streams that we have a need for.”

Watt agreed that cross-training is a good strategy.

“In my view, there are quite a few very talented IT people in the state that have the wrong skill set,” he said. “Those people can be fairly quickly cross-trained.”

In July, Infosys completed an 18-week training program in conjunction with Wayne County Community College that graduated 74 in high-demand, high-tech jobs, 27 of whom immediately landed jobs with Infosys and other area companies. The program will continue, Kedia said.

“You have a lot more companies working closely with educational institutions that have a lot more of a direct impact on curriculum,” Automation Alley’s Green said, “so they are helping to fill not only current needs but build a pipeline, as well.”

Getting college graduates into Detroit firms for work experience is one way to keep talent here.

“The good news is we have a lot of people in southeastern Michigan ready to take on these careers,” said Lisa Katz, executive director of the Workforce Intelligence Network, a partnership of community colleges and MichiganWorks agencies. “We just need to bring the individuals together with the companies and smooth the transition.”

Laurie Bradley, president of high-tech recruiting and marketing firm ASG Renaissance in Dearborn, said she advises companies to do innovative marketing like videos that describe a particular job to attract new employees.

“You need to be really engaging talent to say, ‘This is what it looks like in the day of the life at our company,'” she said. “You want to be able to get that desirable talent to understand that there could be a great culture fit.”

Since Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert wants to turn Detroit into a technology hub, he said it didn’t matter whether IT in the D graduates end up at Quicken Loans.

“If they find a job in Detroit or Michigan,” he said, “we already have met our goal.”

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