From the factory floor to the executive suite, cultivating, attracting and retaining talent is a struggle for most businesses.

“We’re experiencing what most other corporations are experiencing: a talent shortage more or less,” says Brad Self, director of learning and development for the Cincinnati accounting firm of Clark, Schaefer & Hackett.

“There are probably four or five jobs out there for every new person out there looking for a job in public accounting. Even a lot of the larger firms, what we call the Big 4, are recruiting in colleges at the freshman and sophomore levels seeking letters of intent from students. They’re diving way down there.”

At manufacturing plants across the Tristate, finding and keeping good employees has been a challenge for years as fewer young workers are interested in manufacturing careers.

TechSolve, the Bond Hill manufacturing consulting organization, has estimated some 18,000 manufacturing jobs will come open over the next decade due to retiring Baby Boomers.

“The big challenge for us and most of the manufacturers in Northern Kentucky, and probably throughout the country, is that the Baby Boomers are getting ready to retire. It’s a huge problem,” says Mike Vogt, vice president of human resources and general affairs at Mazak Corp. in Florence and co-chair of the Advanced Manufacturing Workforce Development Coalition of Northern Kentucky.

And the talent shortage isn’t unique to the Tristate.

Manpower Group, the global human resources firm, in its annual talent shortage survey last year found one in three U.S. employers reported problems filling job vacancies due to a shortage of talent. While that was down about 8 percent from the prior year, globally the number of employers reporting difficulties rose from 36 to 38 percent.

Talent attraction and retention is the focus of the panel discussion at this year’s Cincy Magazine Power 100 Leadership Forum on Feb. 23 at the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza. It’s a broad issue that stretches from making sure schools are turning out students trained for the careers employers require to finding the right mix of amenities and services to attract and retain the workforce of tomorrow.

And it’s vital to the region’s continued economic growth.

The Regional Indicators Report of Agenda 360, the regional planning initiative of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber and Northern Kentucky’s Skyward (formerly Vision 2015), found Cincinnati ranked 10th among 12 peer cities in net migration, the number of people moving into the area minus those moving out. The region’s population is growing at about .3 percent a year, mainly due to births not new residents.

That awareness spawned “Diversity by Design” a broad-based community effort to attract and retain all types of talent from millennials to veterans. It includes efforts such as CINC, an effort to increase regional awareness for college interns; to CONNECT, a regional network of business employee resource groups to improve retention of diverse employees; to the City of Cincinnati’s creation of a center for new immigrants.

“Our people and our talent is our differentiator,” says Leigh Prop, senior vice president for talent acquisition and engagement at Fifth Third Bank and co-chair of CONNECT. “The more we can recruit top talent, the better off we’re positioned to deliver on customer needs. From the bank’s standpoint we have to have top talent and diverse talent with differing backgrounds and experiences to be able to effectively deliver what our customers need and stay ahead of the demands of our industry.”

Fostering diversity in the workforce isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do from a business perspective, she says.

“There’s been a lot of research done showing that diverse teams outperform homogeneous teams,” she says. “If you have highly engaged teams you’re going to get that additional discretionary effort that translates into how customers see us. We have to have teams that are reflective of the communities and customers we serve.”

The talent equation isn’t just about numbers. It’s also about communicating the need and the opportunity.

There are some 9,000 post-9/11 military veterans in the Tristate but they’re an underappreciated talent resource, says Dan Knowles, director and co-founder of the Tristate Veterans Community Alliance, a veteran-led nonprofit to improve the link between veterans and service providers.

“This is a very, very veteran-friendly community,” he says, with organizations offering services to veterans and employers willing to hire them. At the same time, there are more veterans looking for employment opportunities.

“A lot of time, they’re like ships in the night,” he says. “They’re missing each other.”

Even when they physically connect, it can be difficult for a veteran to explain his or her experience and skills, he says. And often employers seeking veterans may not understand their skills or experiences.

Area businesses individually and collectively are stepping up to tackle the talent challenge.

Clark Schaefer & Hackett, for example, has launched a mentoring and coaching program to improve talent attraction and retention of new employees.

“We’ve put together a program that’s based around the idea that we are providing not just a job but an investment in your future. Here’s how we want to build your career,” says Self. The program teams a new employee with a senior executive to share advice and connections on how to advance in the firm.

“We were looking for a way to build firm loyalty and this mentoring piece has been phenomenal with that,” he says.

Manufacturers are using a variety of approaches to change the outdated image of their industry as dirty, poorly paid and uninspiring work. Some of Northern Kentucky’s largest manufacturers have implemented old-fashioned apprenticeship programs where they pay new employees to obtain the advanced training they need and they’re becoming more proactive in exposing high-school STEM students to manufacturing and its benefits.

Last year, the Northern Kentucky Advanced Manufacturing Workforce Development Coalition launched a $110,000 marketing campaign to promote advanced manufacturing careers in the region.

Vogt, coalition co-chair, says he’s optimistic the marketing effort will have an impact, but the proof won’t come until employers see more interest in manufacturing careers. “Ask me in about six months and I’ll tell you whether it worked or not,” he says.