Karen Shier Builds HR from the Bottom Up

How Karen Shier built Trillium Staffing Solutions’ human resources department from scratch to support the growing company

Photo by Valerie Ott

‘From the ground up’ is a common theme for Karen Shier.

In each academic and professional phase of her life, Shier often had to build from scratch, which nurtured her creativity and diligence. Her vast experience led her to her current role as vice president of human resources at Trillium Staffing Solutions, a business dedicated to serving the employment needs of companies in diverse fields.

In her senior year of high school, Shier spent much of her time working as a floor supervisor at McDonald’s and as a bank teller while also obtaining four different banking certifications. She would go on to be awarded a few finance-related associates degrees from Mid Michigan Community College, and then continued working in banking—at first in a customer service role, then as an assistant branch manager, and then in the same bank’s corporate office to help with their mortgage operations.

“At the time, we didn’t have a strong HR lead at the bank, and I remember the CFO and my supervisor came to me and said, ‘You’d be really good at HR,’” Shier says. Although she hadn’t seriously considered HR before that time and wasn’t really sure of her career path, Shier recalls reflecting that many people in her family worked in HR. “It got me to thinking maybe that could be a good fit for me. It was certainly a good place to start.”

So, Shier pursued a bachelor’s degree at Central Michigan University. Whereas most of her peers there had only recently moved away from home for the first time, Shier arrived on campus with a unique perspective and in a different stage of life. Although her path was nontraditional, it had its perks.

Karen Shier Trillium Staffing Solutions
Karen Shier, Trillium Staffing SolutionsPhoto by Valerie Ott

According to Shier, a few of her professors took note of her circumstance as a working, nontraditional student. “I really feel like I got a bit more attention—just because we would have really great conversations,” Shier says. “I think they sensed my willingness to learn and my drive to succeed.”

When an employer for a plastics manufacturing company in Battle Creek, Michigan, reached out to one of her professors—Dr. Kevin Love—asking for résumés, he sent them only one: Shier’s.

Upon graduation, Shier got her first major HR job with plastics company ASMO Manufacturing, and in her first year, she interviewed upwards of nine hundred people and hired over two hundred. In that role, she helped the company grow to new heights.

“I wore a lot of hats, being involved in almost all HR functions at that company,” Shier says. “It was fast paced, and I learned a lot—a great experience to get my feet wet.”

While she was there, the company opened a new factory in Texas, and Shier was tasked with staffing the plant and setting up its HR functions. “That was a great experience for me,” she says. At that point, Shier enrolled in a cohort MSA program at Central Michigan University and earned her master’s degree with a concentration in HR.

With that experience under her belt, Shier arrived at Trillium Staffing Solutions, just as the company was looking toward expansion. After having recently acquired a few different companies, Trillium finally decided to invest in their HR department—and they chose Shier to lead the charge.

“The company kept growing organically and through acquisition into pretty much all fifty states,” Shier says.

“It’s a family-oriented company; we treat employees with care and mutual respect.”

Trillium Staffing Solutions now places qualified professionals in many different domains: IT, engineering, construction, driving, accounting, finance, clerical, and light industrial, among others. “When I first started at Trillium in our corporate office, we had twenty people,” she explains. “We now have between sixty-five and seventy.”

Just as she did at ASMO Manufacturing, Shier was responsible for establishing the ins and outs of a previously nonexistent HR department. “At Trillium, I set up virtually all of our HR processes and our procedures and developed that trust and rapport with our divisional leaders,” Shier says.

With more than 360 internal employees and between 5,000 and 6,000 staffed on a week-to-week basis, Trillium Staffing has become a critical resource for companies in diverse fields across the nation—and Shier helps assure that everyone has the resources they need to do their jobs. “It’s a family-oriented company; we treat employees with care and mutual respect,” Shier says.

Although staffing companies typically have high turnover, Trillium’s management-level and corporate employees have remarkable longevity. “With my fourteen years of tenure, I’m the baby—most other VPs and corporate managers have been with the company longer.”

Having implemented time-saving training systems and automated, paperless onboarding processes, Shier is eager to continue refining the HR functions that she built from scratch. Luckily, Shier can now do that with the help of her amazing team of dedicated HR professionals.