Low Unemployment, Increased Competition: How Companies can Build their Talent Pipeline


Understanding how business leaders feel about the climate today, how they are preparing for the future, and what they need to succeed is critical when making business and policy decisions that will influence growth in the Pacific Northwest. Between tech giants, a thriving start-up culture and vital port and agriculture industries, the region is experiencing tremendous growth that fuels our state’s economy.

As a college dedicated to bringing prosperity to people across the region, for the past two years, we’ve been monitoring the Pacific Northwest business community in our annual “Business in the Northwest Report,” a resource that provides research-based insights aimed at helping business leaders become more successful in addressing some of our region’s most pressing issues.

This year, we found 61 percent of business leaders feel the business climate is steadily strengthening, an 11-point increase from 2018. Moreover, business leaders are less worried about potential growth in the region than last year, with 57 percent reporting they aren’t worried. While employees are slightly less certain (48 percent reported they felt the business climate was strengthening), there is still optimism with 55 percent agreeing the business climate is changing in a good way.

But business leaders do see a roadblock to success—36 percent reported the biggest challenge they face is maintaining a talented workforce. While 75 percent of PNW business leaders said they were able to create new jobs, 63 percent agree they are struggling to find enough applicants. Given recent low unemployment rates in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, it is more important than ever for businesses to make an effort to build the talent pipeline and improve how they recruit and retain their workforce.

Building the pipeline

Although 85 percent of business leaders agree that graduates from the area are typically prepared and qualified to fill entry-level positions, more than half are finding it difficult to find enough qualified undergraduates from area universities or colleges to fill their company’s needs.

We sought input from businesses in the region to ensure our graduates meet their needs. Upon hearing business leaders’ feedback, we made changes to our curriculum to improve our students’ skills and position them to drive growth for their future employers.

One of the best ways to fix the talent pipeline is to go straight to the source. By working in partnership with local universities, community colleges and vocational schools, companies can ensure students are learning the right skills and have access to professional experiences, such as mentoring, internships, job shadowing or other career experiences, for example, that prepare them to successfully integrate into the workforce after graduation.

Attracting and retaining talent

As competition for talent increases, it is critical that businesses find meaningful ways to attract and retain talent. One of the best ways to do this is by ensuring company benefits outweigh the temptation of leaving for a larger salary. Unsurprising, salary remains the top priority, but we found employees have strong preferences on which benefits matter most to them. When asked to select the top three benefits they would prefer if an increased salary wasn’t an option, they selected:

  • Company paid health insurance – 47 percent
  • Job security – 45 percent
  • Manageable workload – 35 percent
  • Unlimited vacation policy – 32 percent
  • Paid family leave – 31 percent

While some of these benefits have financial implications for companies, job security and a manageable workload are two areas companies can work to improve no matter their size or budgets: don’t be afraid to ask teams what benefits matter most to them.

More often, the success of a company is defined by its employees. Are they the best in their field? Are they innovative? Do they collaborate well? These skills help companies overcome tremendous odds and build a brand that can last for decades to come. Companies cannot afford to struggle to fill positions or maintain talent. By proactively creating and seeking future employees and offering benefits that keep their employees happy, they can better ensure the success and longevity of the organization.

Larry W. (Chip) Hunter was appointed Dean of Washington State University’s Carson College of Business in 2015. He leads the college in its mission to create insight and opportunity through the study of business and the power of our community, for Washington state and the world. Hunter is committed to building and extending the educational opportunities that make the American Dream real. His passion for discovery and innovation arises from his conviction that the best in higher education builds from a foundation of faculty determined to advance knowledge, and that such premier education ought to be available to all students who are willing and able to do the work expected. Under Hunter’s leadership, the Carson College is aiming to be “the model school of business for tomorrow’s land grant university.”

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