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An economic downturn is coming, but Michigan companies are doing more than ever to attract

HOLLAND — It’s been the subtle word whispered behind closed doors for months — recession. Some economists feel it’s inevitable; layoffs have already started nationwide, and prospective employees are getting nervous.

But if West Michigan is an indicator of statewide attitudes, Michiganders don’t have too much to fear yet. Employers across the board are still going to farther lengths than ever before to attract workers.

More:Gentex to open on-site daycare, preschool

More:LG announces 100 percent company-paid healthcare to woo Holland employees

Gentex Corp. has 5,200 employees in West Michigan. That’s a lot of people on the payroll — but the auto supplier is desperate to add more.

“Mostly for hourly positions, we could use at least 200 additional people right now,” said Craig Piersma, vice president of marketing and corporate communications. “Every week, we onboard about 40 people and we lose others, but we’re hiring at a pretty good clip.

“Going into the new year, we need to get about 200 ahead to get comfortable.”

And despite talks of a recession, things are looking up, Piersma said, for auto suppliers.

“Because the auto industry has been suppressed for so long, that’ll likely start to come back a bit. Our outlooks for employment are still pretty good,” he said. “We know next year could be rough, but there’s been such huge demand in the auto industry and they can’t seem to make them fast enough.”

Indeed, the company’s current forecasts for 2023 include revenue growth of 15-20 percent.

Gentex isn’t keeping the bonus cash for itself. Instead, it’s taking on large-scale projects to attract long-term employees, including a recently announced, first-of-its-kind (to West Michigan) onsite daycare and preschool facility with flexible hours for first and second shift employees.

“The low availability and high cost of childcare has long been a barrier to employment, and we want to remove that obstacle so more people can experience the benefits of being a member of team Gentex,” President and CEO Steve Downing wrote in a statement.

The facility has a capacity target of up to 250 children per shift, and services will be discounted as a benefit of employment. For some families, that’s worth working somewhere new.

According to a survey from West Michigan Works of 1,413 respondents, nearly two-thirds of whom were unemployed, childcare availability was a significant barrier to work — in addition to age bias, lack of transparency in the application process, and low potential wages and benefits.

More than 77 percent of respondents with children who need childcare said they “strongly agree” that paying for childcare is a barrier.

“We’re looking at strategically and systematically removing the bigger barriers to unemployment,” Piersma said.

And it goes beyond childcare. Gentex also has a Limited English Proficiency Program, nearly two years old, through which it offers jobs on Spanish-speaking assembly lines.

More:Gentex struggled to find workers. It’s hired 100-plus with help from a language program.

“We knew we could have access to a whole other pool of workers if we simply could allow Spanish to be spoken here,” Piersma said. “Now, we’re essentially a bilingual organization. We can recruit, onboard, train and supervise, all in Spanish. It’s been quite an undertaking, but we have over 170 Spanish-speaking workers now.”

Gentex isn’t the only Michigan company looking to break language barriers. Just around the corner, global furniture manufacturer MillerKnoll recently partnered with the Literacy Center of West Michigan to provide a 15-week English program for 11 employees.

The program aimed to reduce English language literacy as a barrier by “providing contextual English language instruction” using a “tailored curriculum.”

The curriculum covered a variety of topics, ranging from alphabet and grammar concepts to conversational skills, giving and receiving instructions, working with maps, and safety and workplace vocabulary.

MillerKnoll provided transportation and paid for the time associates were in class, which took place an hour before their shift.

“Our goal was to make the program accessible and equitable for our associates,” said MillerKnoll DEI Program Manager Domingo Hernandez-Gomez. “It helped develop a sense of community.”

In October, LG Energy Solution in Holland announced 100 percent company-paid healthcare, including medical, dental and vision. Less than 5 percent of U.S. employers offer medical coverage with no contribution from employees, the company said.

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“LG Energy Solution is not only paving the path for a more sustainable future through the production of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles, this move demonstrates our commitment to investing in the futures of our employees and their families,” said President Charles (Oh Young) Hyun.

But in the end, it’s also about capturing and retaining talent.

“This is also great for the Michigan economy as LG continues to recruit top talent to support the growing electric vehicle industry,” Hyun said.

Will a recession slow down the benefits? That remains to be seen.

— Contact editor Cassandra Lybrink at Follow her on Twitter @CassLybrink.

Read More: An economic downturn is coming, but Michigan companies are doing more than ever to attract

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