Tag Archives: Journalist

Paying attention to trends

KALAMAZOO — Sheryl Connelly’s primary job with Ford Motor Co. is to predict the future as it relates to the continued good financial health of her employer.

She told an audience of community leaders from the business, education and non-profit sectors gathered Thursday at the Radisson Plaza Hotel & Suites in downtown Kalamazoo that no one can predict the future.

But they can pay attention to trends and changes in consumer attitudes which will keep their businesses and organizations relevant.

Connelly, whose titled is futurist, was among several speakers at the second annual Catalyst University presented by Southwest Michigan First, Kalamazoo County’s economic development agency.

“In today’s world we all have so much to do and so much responsibility,” Connelly said.

“We become extremely focused and don’t see what’s around us. This is a problem Ford has had” beginning with its founder, Henry Ford.

Ford apparently was so focused on bringing transportation to the masses and producing an automobile to fulfill his goal that he insisted on only using black paint because it dried faster.

“While he was focusing on efficiency, our competitors were focusing on styling and we lost a share of the world market because of that,” she said.

Similar hiccups in the company’s history happened in the 1970’s when the first energy crisis occurred and the bigger, wider, longer vehicles Ford had been producing after World War II to satisfy consumer demand weakened the company’s position in the world market.

“We weren’t paying attention to what was going on around us,” Connelly said, during her talk, “Charting the Course.”

“There were things going on in the world we had no control over,” she said.

This is what Connelly focuses on. She studies consumer and social trends and demographics and spends a lot of time talking to individuals who represent a broad cross-section of what she needs to know to help the leadership at Ford make good decisions.

Connelly’s definition of a trend is a long-term shift in consumer values, attitudes and behaviors. She said the United States’ aging population will have major implications for Ford which will have to consider designing a vehicle for the consumer who has issues such as reduced response time and limited range of motion.

In addition to an aging population, Connelly said she has been paying attention to other areas, such as an attitudinal shifts, which finds consumers feeling extremely vulnerable and seeking out products which will give them greater peace of mind. Many of these products use technology such as GPS, which at one time was only available to the government and businesses.

“Technology is becoming more accessible and you can buy it at your local spy store,” Connelly said.

Many of these same consumers are showing a movement toward ethical consumption, which involves pushing accountability off of the individual and onto the organization.

“There’s a desire from consumers to take back control and the idea that something which happens locally has global implications,” Connelly said. “They want to make sure these larger organizations are doing their part.”

In 2008 colleagues of Connelly’s approached her about the continuation of ethical consumption. Her response was that the era of excess had come to an end and consumers would be balancing practicality with passion, in other words, living within limits.

As a result consumers are seeking out avenues which provide experiences, entertainment and escape.

Connelly said focusing on areas such as the ones she cited where the company has no control makes good business sense.

“It all goes back to strategy,” she said. “It’s understanding who you are, where you want to go and the environment where you want to execute your plan.”

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Things Are Looking Up

As economy improves, more temp workers are being converted to permanent employees

PORTAGE — Barb Miner wasn’t looking for another career. She was searching for a job which would supplement an early retirement package she received when she left the former Pharmacia Corp., now Pfizer Corp., after 27 years there.

But after spending a year as a temporary employee with a Portage manufacturing company, Miner was hired as a permanent human resources administrator and receptionist.

More temporary workers are being given permanent positions, area staffing agencies representatives say. It’s a trend that may show that companies are feeling more secure about their future because they’re willing to ramp up hiring rather than relying solely on temporary workers.

“What we’ve seen for the last three quarters is significant growth in terms of hiring activity with our customers,” said Steve Beebe, vice president of WSI, the Kalamazoo staffing company that placed Miner with the Portage company.

“Within the last 45 to 60 days we’ve seen an actual increase in permanent hiring. I relate that to companies seeing work that is more sustainable and bringing on the work force to handle that work which is quite common.”

In 2008, WSI placed Miner with W.L. Molding in Portage as a temporary employee. One year later that company hired her in full time as their human resources administrator/receptionist.

Beebe said WSI’s business for contract hiring is up 200 percent this year compared to 2009. He said national projections indicate that most companies are planning to expand employment during the first quarter of 2011.

Miner said she thinks starting out as a temporary hire makes sense for people like herself who have experience, but lack the education so many employers require.

“I had worked my way up to a managerial job with Pharmacia, but I didn’t have the education so I knew it would be difficult for me when I looked for another job,” Miner said. “They (W.L. Molding) started recognizing and utilizing my talents and they offered me a full-time job.”

The majority of jobs which shift from temporary to full time employment are still in manufacturing, Beebe said.

Melissa Johnson, sales director for Advance Employment’s Kalamazoo office, said her agency has had an almost 60 percent increase from 2009 in terms of the number of individuals they have put to work. She said some of these jobs were trial hires, as opposed to temporary positions.

Last month, she filled a request for 80 positions, which came from a Lansing-based company that focuses on energy-efficient products and services.

“The outlook for 2011 is that we’re actually going to have sustainable jobs in Michigan for the first time since 2001,” Johnson said. “We were in a general decline beginning in 2001. Our best year since then is this year.”

Mark Lancaster, president and chief executive officer of Battle Creek-based Employment Group, said he noticed an improvement in his business midway through 2009. He said his customers’ hiring forecasts have gone from three days to three months and in some cases six months — an indication of increased confidence in the economy.

“Our customers are actually hiring in 2010 and willing to bring people onto their payroll,” Lancaster said. “My most recent numbers are that 811 of our temporary workers have been hired onto customer payrolls.”

Lancaster said sectors of the economy in Michigan which are hiring include aerospace, electronics, food, furniture, distribution, energy and the automobile industry.

“All in all it’s broad-based hiring,” Lancaster said. “The auto industry and auto suppliers are still driving employment in Michigan.”

General assembly jobs often lead to the creation of other positions necessary to support an increasing workload, such as clerical or administrative jobs, Johnson said, particularly for those companies that were able to weather tough economic conditions.

Companies that survived while watching their competitors go out of business now have a bigger share of the market, Johnson said, and the majority of them need to expand their work force to meet anticipated demand for their products and services.

“Certain companies that haven’t utilized us for two or three years are calling us,” Johnson said.

Many of WSI’s clients are telling Beebe that their hiring will be sustainable and continuous.

Beebe said he thinks now is a “great time” to be a contract or temporary employee because, “you can get in the ground floor in entry-level manufacturing.”

For those individuals in the hunt for a clerical, administrative or professional-level job, Beebe discourages waiting out the recession and said these individuals need to start applying and getting their resumes out.

“You don’t want to miss the boat,” Lancaster said. “Starting out as a temporary or contract worker allows you to see what the company’s workplace culture is like to make sure there’s a good foot and it’s a great way to get your foot in the door.”

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