How to Attract and Retain Workers Amid Today’s Fierce Competition for Talent

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As our economy recovers from the whiplash of COVID-19, so does the talent landscape. In 2020, the U.S. experienced record unemployment rates as companies laid off and furloughed employees in response to the pandemic. Flash forward to winter 2022: Over 2 million Americans have left the workforce completely, resulting in a massive labor shortage. 

While the war for talent is not new, the pandemic has undoubtedly exacerbated the issue. On the other hand, talent is now relocating and willing to relocate more than ever before. In 2020, more than7 million  American households moved to different counties. In a recent study of national talent trends, 54% of respondents are either planning to or are open to a move within 12-18 months. 

There is an opportunity to capture this small majority, but companies and the regions where they are located need to try something new to come out on top. We can do this by tapping into existing (and underutilized) resources and talent groups, and importantly, by being more creative in our approach to connecting with talent.

Explore new digital channels to reach talent.

Millennials and Gen Z spend more time online than any other generation prior, frequently exposed to media, advertisements, and curated content across all social media platforms. While 81% of consumers trust content from an influencer, only 38% trust advertisements. Similarly, user-generated content is 50% more trusted by consumers than traditional media. 

To engage with their target audience for an entry-level professional virtual career fair in May 2021, the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority partnered with influencers to promote the job fair.

The influencers, who have a substantial young professional following, developed sponsored posts, driving more than one million impressions and 100 clicks to the job fair registration page. With over 550 attendees, the career fair was a success thanks to the 27 influencer posts and resulting engagement from talent nationwide.

During the pandemic, virtual career fairs became – and remain – an excellent channel to reach job seekers. Employment platforms like Brazen, Handshake, and CareerBuilder have been hosting these virtual events for years, but the need for social distancing ramped up demand.

Since 2020, educational institutions such as Western Michigan University  and governmental organizations including the Virginia Employment Commission  and the City of Boston  joined these platforms in hosting virtual career fairs to connect job seekers with jobs in a range of industries at all experience levels.

These fairs’ impact shouldn’t be underestimated and can produce phenomenal results if adequately promoted. As an example of what works in this new virtual reality, the Fairfax County EDA’s career fairs attracted nearly 4,000 attendees and resulted in more than 9,000 conversations between job seekers and hiring representatives. 

Work with your local economic development organization.

Economic development organizations (EDOs) operate to increase economic prosperity in a particular region. Companies should collaborate with their local EDOs to achieve common goals, including attracting and retaining talent. With an extensive network of businesses and professionals, along with resources and expertise in talent attraction, EDOs can help companies ramp up talent attraction efforts and allow them to reach new markets and talent groups.

When EDOs work together, this effect can be magnified many times over. For example, the Northern Virginia EDA (which includes 10 EDOs collaborating on shared goals) partnered to launch a talent attraction website to provide the information and tools necessary to make informed relocation and career-move decisions.

Talent attraction and workforce development do not need to be a zero-sum game. For example, a worker in County A might live in County B, but shop and spend money in County C. All three counties (and their tax base) benefit from that individual’s presence in the community and should look at ways to collaborate to attract and retain talent in the region. 

Offer reskilling and upskilling opportunities to job seekers with transferrable skills.

During the pandemic, the U.S. saw a remarkable spike of dissolved entry-level positions and displaced workers who needed a job placement quickly due to the virus. Post-pandemic, companies struggle to fill roles ranging from entry-level to executive leadership. 

One way to fill open jobs is by providing opportunities for job seekers to upskill or reskill and become proficient in the new role. Job seekers frequently have the experience that might not match a role exactly, but have transferrable skills that can be highly attractive to employers.

Military veterans have many skills and experiences that can translate well to other jobs. For example, they frequently have the security clearance needed to work at high-caliber cybersecurity companies and government contractors. 

By using a digital-first approach to connect with talent, collaborating with your local EDO on talent attraction and retention efforts, and allowing talent to upskill, reskill and apply transferrable skills to a new role, businesses and organizations will be more resilient and remain competitive in the war for talent.


Victor Hoskins is the President and CEO Fairfax County Economic Development Authority.


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By Victor Hoskins