Michigan Startups Need Skilled Employees, Not Empty Promises

I had a killer dream last night. The kind of dream where you wake up surrounded by sweat-soaked sheets and your heart feels like Animal from The Muppets is pounding on it from the inside. The kind of dream that feels so real when you're in it that disappointment hangs over you when you wake. The kind of dream that makes you want to get up, get dressed and damned well make it come true.

OK, maybe it wasn't on a par with Martin Luther King's dream in terms of how much it's going to change the world, but it was an exciting dream nonetheless. But more on that later...

Benzinga is based in Detroit. You might hear that and immediately think of burnt-out buildings, drive-by shootings and Ndamukong Suh stamping on a Green Bay Packer. All of those things are greatly exaggerated (except for Suh and his stamping, but we fully endorse the big man's bad-ass behavior). What is not exaggerated is the level of suffering that the good people of Michigan have endured while the Big 3 of the auto industry pulled themselves up by their bootstraps.

There is a crack of sunlight fighting its way out of the smoggy clouds in this city, but families have struggled while assembly-line-trained former auto employees wonder what to do with their lives. Right now, we are constantly hearing that there are no jobs available in Detroit, and yet, here at Benzinga, we have jobs to fill but can't find the talent and entrepreneurs to fill the positions.

It's an odd and incredibly frustrating feeling to be offering employment, practically begging for trained professionals, and not to be able to find the right fit, but then to constantly hear that there are thousands of people out of work.

It's tough to suggest a solution too. How do you retrain a whole region? It is very, very unlikely that a 50-something guy who used to spot-weld for Ford is going to wake up one day and decide to train in User Experience Design (UX/UI). Not impossible, but unlikely. It must be horribly daunting for one of those guys to look at the tech section of jobs on Craigslist and wonder which of the hundreds of languages, systems, platforms and skills he or she should train in.

Benzinga has recently advertised for an experienced web designer and/or UX/UI Developer, and we have looked everywhere. "We want people who have an IMMENSE desire to DISRUPT the status quo," said we, because we do.

The steps we took included carefully listing the responsibilities and the required skills of the position, then creating and listing ads we loved on sites that included: LinkedIn, Craigslist, Simply Hired, Indeed, and Startuply.

Additionally, we reached out to local schools such as Lawrence Tech, the College of Creative Studies, and the University of Michigan. We've coaxed, coerced and seduced, and we still haven't found the owner of the glass slipper. Which brings me back to that dream...

I advertise for a job working in UX/UI, and I receive a multitude of applications from suitable candidates. Then with gleeful abandon, I am able to decide which personality best fits the Benzinga experience, lifestyle and overall culture of success.

It was fantastic, like picking a meal from a Chinese menu. I knew that they would all be good, so it came down to a matter of who was the best fit for our team.

Then I woke up, and I looked in my inbox, and I started going through the resumes of people that have no real UX experience, seeking just another job instead of looking to join a team of entrepreneurs who are looking to disrupt the financial industry. By the eighth resume, that second pot of coffee was looking really good. I'll keep looking. Maybe the right person will be inside of resume number nine.

Putting my dream aside, this problem has left me stumped. How does an innovative startup find the talented professionals we need in our home state? As we continue to spend countless hours trying to find the right candidates, we know one thing for sure -- we're not leaving Michigan. I'm encouraged by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's recent comments that students should have passion and patience with startups. His record in venture capitalism is impressive. But it is time for the governor, and indeed President Obama, to stop talking about supporting small businesses in Michigan, to stop talking about bringing people back to the state, and to start doing it. The time is now.

The entrepreneurs building Benzinga and I continue to have faith that Michigan is the right place to grow and create the company, so we will keep looking for talent. We will keep looking for the people who are willing to take a leap of faith and join a prospering team in a state that is continuing to grow stronger.