Houston was recently named the fourth best performing city in the United States based on a 2012 Milken Institute study. The study considered 200 major metropolitan areas and examined job, wage, and technology growth, with the most weight on job growth. The Houston area fared well even in the economic downturn, but even then jumped from number 16 in 2011 to 4 in 2012. So what does this mean?

We have more jobs in Houston than we have in the past five years, and we experienced noticeable growth as compared to most of the country. We are moving from a tight job market, where employers had candidates knocking on their doors and could choose from any number of highly qualified individuals to a job market that is going to force employers to compete for top talent. This not unlike the fluctuations we see in the housing market – sometimes it is a buyer’s market, sometimes it is a seller’s market. With this much job growth, it’s going to be a candidate’s market.

Employers who don’t recognize this or fail to take action may find themselves struggling to retain employees and fill vacancies. Employers who recognize this, however, can prepare themselves, participate in some strategic planning, and confidently hire the best people for the job – taking advantage of a growing market and ensuring continued productivity and potential expansion.

Translated into action items, we need to identify our top talent and reinforce our retention plans for that population. We need to then consider what kind of talent we will need over the next year, two years, and five years, and develop plans to attract the right candidates.

We need to address turnover and then refine recruitment and selection in order to get ahead of the competition – lest we desire to watch all of our good employees and future candidates take their abilities elsewhere. In job markets that are contracting, this is easy. However, our market appears to be expanding, and at a fairly rapid pace. We may even see the return of sign-on bonuses in 2013 as employers step up their recruitment efforts.

Creating the kind of environment that attracts the talent we need isn’t easy. We need to evaluate employee turnover, look at our organizational culture, consider what (the best) employees want, and bring it all together in a functioning workplace. A strategic business partner is an invaluable asset for these purposes, and when it comes to people and work, an HR services firm is an excellent choice.

What’s more, an HR consultant can often provide you with an unbiased picture of what is really going on in your workplace, identify the qualities that you should target in future recruits, develop recruitment and retention strategies, and help you to identify unique, untapped pools of candidates. More often than not, consulting services pay for themselves, making them a safe investment. Slowing down turnover, finding a new candidate pool, and implementing appropriate screening processes saves the company money on multiple levels.

The war for talent started in 2012. 2013 is looking to be even more competitive. Choose your weapons wisely!

Angela Zacharias, Ph.D. is the Director of Human Resources and Development for ETC.