Spartan Insights: A Discussion Thread. Featured Guest, Andrew Belanger – Social Media & Project Coordinator for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

This week’s featured Spartan was Andrew Belanger, Social Media and Project Coordinator for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC.) Please take a look at his profile on Linkedin. Andrew offered to answer any questions about his background, the MEDC, job search tactics, and any other professional topics Spartans were interested in. This conversation was open from 12/16/2014 until 01/05/2015. You may continue the conversation in the comments section here, but Andrew may not be available to answer questions in this forum.

Spartan Insights is a regularly scheduled Linkedin discussion thread inside  of the MSUALUMNI Linkedin group. Each discussion is meant to give you the opportunity to ask questions regarding one Spartan’s experience within a specific company, industry, or occupation. Answers will be given at the convenience and discretion of the featured Spartan and will be answered from the Spartan’s own personal experiences and opinions which are not meant to be representative of his/her company’s official position.

Andrew Belanger

Statewide Talent Programs at MEDC | Social Media Manager for MiTalent.org | Board of Directors at Mid-Michigan Spartans

Thanks for the introduction Dave. Good morning fellow Spartans! As Dave mentioned feel free to check out my profile at: http://www.linkedin.com/in/andrewbelanger/. I am looking forward to your questions over the next few weeks!

Dave Isbell

Hi Andrew, Thanks for making yourself available to help Spartans in this way. I have two questions for you. First, I know that you have a passion for helping job seekers, and in the past, your role was to be more of a direct service provider for that kind of help. With the holidays upon us, employers tend to slow the hiring process down. Can you give Spartans a few of your favorite “Do’s” and “Don’ts” of a holiday job search? A second question: From your vantage point in your current role at the MEDC, what resources would you suggest that job seekers, employers, entrepreneurs be aware of that help make Michigan be a terrific place to live, work, and play?

 

Andrew Belanger

Dave – These are both great questions. Looking at your first question I would suggest, 1.) stay motivated! It’s easy to get distracted this time of the year with life obligations. 2.) Remain proactive in your job search. While hiring in most industries slows during the holiday’s (winter months) we typically see trends pick up after the first of the year. With many HR staff and recruiters determined to fill the year’s remaining openings by December 31 being vigilant in your job search can give you a leg up. Generally speaking, looking at hiring cycles of employers (that I have worked with in the past) I would say peak hiring times fall in January and February and then late September and October. I say it’s all about exposure, be sure you are looking for opportunities (regardless of the time of year), don’t find excuses to avoid looking. Are you looking for your next move? I would recommend checking out the state of Michigan’s official labor exchange, Pure Michigan Talent Connect (PMTC): http://www.MiTalent.Org. PMTC is an online market place where employers can post opportunities and source talent from across the state. With over 80,000 job openings in a wide variety of industries it’s an excellent resource for employers and job seekers to make meaningful connections.

Moving to your second question, MiTalent.Org and http://www.michiganbusiness.org/ are two excellent resources for individuals to learn more about living, working and playing in Michigan! The Michigan business website has information for job seekers, employers and the general public on sense of place, working, growing- including entrepreneurial, start-up business assistance, access to capital and customers and much more. Additionally, MEDC actively promotes Michigan as a great place to live, work and play via our social media channels. Be sure to follow the MEDC and Pure Michigan Talent Connect on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Tangie – Program Manager:

Hi Andrew, I see at one point you made a shift in your career from law enforcement to workforce development. I know that many times people are looking to make a career shift but aren’t quite sure how to go about it. Are there any tips you would give individuals looking to make this shift or any resources they might find helpful during a transition?

 

Andrew Belanger

Tangie – First and foremost, I would recommend looking at ones transferable ‘technical’ skills. Look at technical skillsets you can take from one job, industry or experience and think about how they can be applied to another field and/or opportunity. As building blocks these in combination with soft skills i.e. time management skills, interpersonal communication skills, problem solving and critical thinking skills, enthusiasm, attitude and teamwork make all of us marketable across a wide number of positions. Sometimes it just requires taking a step back and getting creative with your resume, cover letter and examples you may provide in an interview. If you are looking to change careers, I would also suggest looking for opportunities to volunteer or intern. Even if you are unpaid, these experiences can provide a valuable experience that can add to your tool box of skills.

Early on one of my initial career goals was to work in law enforcement. While studying criminal Justice for my undergrad at Ferris State University I worked for Peckham Inc., a non-profit vocational rehabilitation organization in Lansing, MI. There I learned to work with diverse populations of individuals in a variety of settings. While continuing to work my way through school I had the opportunity to intern at the Williamston Police Department. This internship opened up several opportunities at the department including being hired as a Reserve Police Officer and later as a Part Time Police Officer. While ultimately I decided to pursue a non-law enforcement career my experiences working with the public, being able to articulate my transferable skills, volunteering and networking all helped lead me to where I am today.

Spartans – Do you have an experience where volunteering or an internship opened a door for you?

 

Anna – Account Manager:

What would you say are your proudest accomplishments in your career?

Andrew Belanger

Anna- Great question. As an overarching theme, being able to serve others through my work is one of my proudest accomplishments. Across all of my past experiences, I have had the privilege of serving others. This servitude, giving back and contributing to the greater good is one of the things that initially drew me to the field of law enforcement and a continued career in workforce development. Serving the public, working with job seekers, students, alumni, employers and workforce stakeholders has provided me with a sense of personal and professional fulfillment, something I think is very important in ones work life and life balance. As personal core values (serving others, giving back and contributing to the greater good) I was heavily influenced by my involvement and experiences as a youth within the Boy Scouts of America. In my current position with the MEDC, and my work with supporting statewide talent attraction and retention initiatives I have direct involvement in workforce program design and program management. This program design and management (at the state level) is something that I also value and that I am proud of. Thanks for the question. I hope you enjoy the holidays!

Andrew Belanger

Dave, Tangie and Anna- thanks again for the great questions! Does anyone else have any questions about my background, the MEDC (or previous organizations I have worked for), social media, job search tactics, and/or any other professional topic you have on your mind? I look forward to hearing from you! Check out my profile at: http://www.linkedin.com/in/andrewbelanger/

Ron – Branch Manager:

Andrew, It was pretty exciting to hear about the creation of the Department of Talent and Economic Development in Michigan. Based on your experiences working with job seekers and employers what would you say the top three things the state needs to do to attract and retain employers and skilled employees.

Stacie – Nonprofit Organization Management, Board of Directors:

Hi Andrew, thank you for sharing your expertise with this group. I see that you have a leadership role with the Mid Michigan Spartans. How has being part of the Spartan Nation impacted your career? What are some of the opportunities groups like Mid Michigan Spartans present to alumni?

 

Andrew Belanger

Ron – I hope all is well! I am looking forward to seeing the changes that result from Governor Snyder’s creation of the Department of Talent and Economic Development (TED). To provide the group with a little context, Governor Snyder through an executive order recently created TED and the Michigan Talent Investment Agency (TIA), as well as made announcements to restructuring several state departments. To read more from his official press release visit:https://www.michigan.gov/snyder/0,4668,7-277-57577_57657-343756–,00.html Focusing on talent development, talent retention and talent attraction I’m excited to see how TIA will strengthen Michigan’s jobs preparedness, career-based education, skilled trades training, incumbent worker training, employment assistance, STEM training programs and programs targeted at the structurally unemployed.

From MY experiences working on local, regional and statewide talent programs, I think there are several things we can focus on to better attract and retain a skilled workforce in Michigan. 1.) Enhance our coordinated employment messaging (talent development, retention and attraction) and unify local and regional messaging efforts. 2.) Focus on career based education, career tech programs and talent pipeline development and 3.) Look at individual employer organizations and structures and adapt where appropriate to appeal to retaining and attracting top talent.

I think Michigan does a superb job using the popular Pure Michigan brand to promote Michigan’s travel and tourism industry. By leveraging this campaign I think a more coordinated and unified message (across the state) will go a long way to connect local and regional workforce needs. Looking at things like sense of place, living and playing in Michigan, I think a targeted approach can be taken for specific demographic group’s i.e. recent college graduates, alumni and skilled talent. In my current role with the MEDC, I’m excited to see efforts at the state level acknowledge the importance of sense of place. I’m looking forward to seeing how sense of place will be leveraged in future messaging and connecting talent to opportunity. If you’re interested in talking more about this I’m more than happy to talk offline.

When talking about messaging, I think we also need to take a look at industries and specific occupational needs. There is a lot of work right now being done around Michigan’s manufacturing industries seeking to change popular perceptions or misperceptions. As I’m sure you are aware, manufacturing is not what it was 15, 10 even five years ago. By highlighting changes in industry, it’s high-tech needs I think we need to start talking with K-12 students (and parents) earlier exposing them to opportunities (in a variety of fields).

Andrew Belanger

Ron – With an emphasis on four year degree completion (in recent years), we have seen skills/talent gaps emerge in many middle skilled and high skilled industries. As baby boomers continue to move out of the workforce in the coming years these skills gaps will only become more evident. There are some great programs in Michigan that focus on short term training, and industry recognized credentials which can yield very rewarding career paths. By continuing to focus on career exposure, growing STEM career tech programs, encouraging apprenticeships we can build a pipeline of talent to help fill our current and our future needs. To learn more about some initiatives addressing these issues (at the state level) check out the Michigan Career Jump Start (http://www.mitalent.org/career-jump-start/) and the Michigan Advanced Technician Training Program (MAT2) http://www.mitalent.org/mat2/.

I think at an organizational level there are a number of things employers can do to retain and attract talent. Messaging and ‘branding’ for employers can make and/or break an organization. Outside of paying fair market wages, offering benefits, having a proactive marketing campaign etc. I think it’s important to listen to what current employees are saying about your organization. This feedback should be used to guide strategic planning for not only talent retention but attraction. With younger generations we note workplace flexibility, opportunities for advancement, culture and environment are increasingly important. Looking at each of these, organizations can look at best practices and assess if costs of change outweigh their ability or inability to attract specific talent.

Thanks for the question Ron! Thanks for all the great work you are doing!

 

Andrew Belanger

Statewide Talent Programs at MEDC | Social Media Manager for MiTalent.org | Board of Directors at Mid-Michigan Spartans

Stacie – Thanks for joining the conversation and for the question! While I just recently joined the Mid-Michigan Spartan Alumni Group as a Board of Directors Member (November 2014) I have found my past experiences working with and on boards to be very rewarding both personally and professionally.

Previously I was a Board Member on the Capital Healthcare and Employment Council. Additionally, I sat on an advisory board for a small IT startup. Outside of these groups, I am an active member of the Social Media Association of Michigan, (www.SMAMi.org) the National Association of Workforce Development Professionals (NAWPD) and the National Career Development Association (NCDA). One of the greatest benefits I have found personally and professionally, is the networks I have built through my involvement within these groups. Through my involvement with current and past boards and professional organizations, I have been able to develop many long term business relationships which I have carried from one job to another. Several individuals I have gotten to know through these affiliations have even become mentors. These has been invaluable to me as I have looked to grow professionally. One of the other things I enjoy about being active on boards and through membership groups is they provide an opportunity to give back. While these opportunities look great on a resume, being able to give back is just as important to me.

With that being said, I am looking forward to serving the Mid-Michigan Spartan Alumni Group and sitting on its Membership and Development Committee (Chair), Communications Committee and the Young Alumni Committee. I’m hopeful through this organization and its membership (largest regional MSU alumni chapter in the world) I can help further many of my work initiatives (promote Michigan as a great place to live, work and play), continue to grow my network and give back to the Spartan community.

I see looking at your LinkedIn profile that you are involved with several boards including MSU’s College of Natural Science Alumni Association. I look forward to the possibility of connecting in the future and exploring how our groups can further connect to impact the Spartan Nation!

Kate – Adjunct Faculty at Siena Heights University:

Hi Andrew,
I know you’re very active on social media. Can you talk some about the opportunities and pitfalls of maintaining an active digital personal brand?

 

Andrew Belanger

Thanks for the question Kate! One of the greatest opportunities I see in maintaining an active digital ‘personal’ brand is one’s ability to build, personalize and maintain their unique digital footprint. As you know the way we ‘share’ and the way we ‘create’ has changed with the evolution of social media. Personal branding is not a new concept, but the tools and methods in which we use to manage and grow personal brands are. Having a personal brand allows one to tell their story in their own way- much like an organizational brand. Some benefits of having an active personal brand via social media is increasing ones visibility, building relationships, connecting with like-minded people and sharing your expertise/story.

When managing a personal and/or organization brand I would recommend developing a social media strategy. In this, I would suggest identifying your brand guidelines, your target audience, your objectives and the strategies you want to use to accomplish them.

Outside of identifying what you want you want your brand to be and who you want to target, I find one of the greatest struggles in brand management- is coming up with unique, dynamic and engaging content.

When telling ones story, I argue it’s not about doing and saying things TO people but rather it’s about doing and saying things WITH people. I would recommend focusing on creating engaging and dynamic content, not just gaining more fans and followers. When content is dynamic and engaging fans will follow.

Some things to consider:

-There are a lot of social media platforms out there. For starters, I would recommend focusing on a limited number of platforms for brand development. Based on your identified target audience, I would look at popular channels i.e. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. By limiting the number of platforms a brand is represented on, time and resources can be better leveraged in brand management.
-Be proactive vs. reactive in promoting your brand. By connecting with like-minded brands one can become part of a larger conversation and create brand awareness. Post, comment and like regularly.
-Keep the ‘social’ in social media. Engage with your fans and followers, talk to them in real time and share their content and stories which are applicable to your brand. Listen to your fans and followers and use these conversations to guide your content generation strategy. Some of the best listeners also make the best conversationalists.
-Use engagement and performance metrics as a benchmark tool for timing and frequency of posts across your social media platforms.

Kate – As a public relations and communications professional and small business owner working in the field of social media do you have any additional suggestions for the group on maintaining an active digital personal brand?

Andrew Belanger

Thank you MSU Alumni Association for featuring me in this most recent Spartan Insight discussion series. Thank you to the group for the great questions and for giving me the opportunity to share my experiences these past two weeks. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/andrewbelanger/ and follow me on Twitter @AndrewJBelanger for updates on living, working and playing and Michigan. #SpartanInsights #SpartansWill

Dave Isbell

Thank you Andrew for your willingness to help Spartans in this way, and thanks to each of you who participated in making this an insightful discussion. This discussion is now closed, but can be found on our blog for future reference (where Spartans are also invited to continue to comment, though Andrew may not be available to carry out the conversation via that forum.) http://www.spartanshelpingspartans.com. Please watch for the next Spartan Insights conversation, running from 01/13 – 01/28 on Linkedin.

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