Snyder budget aims to put more tools in skilled-trades classrooms

Vocational education

Training for jobs in fields such as auto mechanics and other traditional blue-collar fields has lagged in Michigan in recent years. 

LANSING — Gov. Rick Snyder is taking his campaign to increase Michigan’s skilled trades employment to high school, and put more up-to-date equipment used by real employers in the state’s vocational classrooms.

The proposal is one part of a bigger plan to support the skilled trades and shatter stereotypes that skilled trades are dirty jobs. It comes the same week Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson extolled the virtues of “shop class” in a speech.

Gov. Rick Snyder

Gov. Rick Snyder's proposed budget includes funding for a competitive grant program to increase skilled-trades employment. 

The $20 million competitive grant program he proposed last week in his 2018 budget is modeled after a similar program in 2015 for community colleges that Snyder’s administration said led to 91 new or expanded programs at 18 schools.

If the Legislature approves it, K-12 districts and regional intermediate school districts that offer career and technical education programs would be eligible to apply for funding to offset the cost of buying new machinery.

A grant program would be a boon for Michigan’s public vocational education system, where funding varies by county and many needed equipment upgrades are deferred due to a lack of money for big-ticket purchases.

The idea is pending budget approval, but districts chosen to receive funding would be expected to work with nearby employers to identify the types of equipment and skills in the highest demand in the workforce, said Dave Murray, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Talent and Economic Development. The state’s talent department is working with the Michigan Department of Education on the program.

The grant program is one piece of the Snyder administration’s plan to support its emphasis on skilled trades with more money, centered on a $40.9 million statewide education and promotional campaign it’s branding “Going Pro.”

More money for economic development incentives

Gov. Rick Snyder proposed a $10 million increase to funding for business attraction and community revitalization programs managed by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. in his 2018 fiscal-year budget. A total of $125.5 million would be available for those efforts.

Joshua Hundt, the MEDC’s business development projects vice president, said the funding increase mostly would be used to offer more incentives to recruit companies to Michigan, helping with business expansion projects or helping finance community development projects. Since the funding is one-time money, it’s not expected to be used to hire additional staff or start new programs, Hundt said.

Snyder also proposed one-time funding of $5 million for talent marketing, including promotion of career fairs and high-demand skills and industries.

The campaign folds in the state’s existing Skilled Trades Training Fund, which offers grants to employers to help cover training costs, and is intended to help shatter stereotypes that skilled trades are dirty jobs. Snyder is recommending a one-time funding increase of nearly a third, or $10 million, over current levels to support Going Pro in the 2018 fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

“We’re renaming it the Going Pro program because we want people – young people and parents in particular – to view becoming a skilled tradesperson as becoming a professional,” Snyder told lawmakers last week as he unveiled his budget proposal in Lansing. “We’ve got the opportunities, folks. We need our young people to go into them.”

Employers are struggling to fill open positions because of a shortage of trained workers in the pipeline to replace an aging workforce nearing retirement. Enrollment in high school vocational programs has not returned to where it was just a decade ago as Michigan adopted a more rigorous college-prep high school curriculum, and the recession caused some labor unions to scale back or stop apprenticeship programs — leaving them with a talent shortfall as manufacturing and construction industries began to recover.

More than 41,000 jobs requiring an associate’s degree or less were posted last week on the state’s talent portal. That gap is one reason Snyder is looking to high school as an opportunity to expose younger students to the trades before they make their college or job decisions.

L. Brooks Patterson

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson wants to encourage students who'd like to "work with their hands." 

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson weighed in during his recent State of the County address, suggesting a rethinking of high school career planning to encourage students who like working with their hands to consider skilled trades. It could be as simple, he said, “as reinstituting in grade school or high school what we all knew as shop class.”

“We are very pleased at the resurgence and a focus and an importance that’s being placed on career and technical education,” said Shannon Williams, who last month took over as regional administrator for career-technical education at the Macomb Intermediate School District after working as the career-technical education coordinator for Utica Community Schools.

“If (funding is) there,” she said, “we will find useful ways to use it.”

A mix of funding sources, needs

Macomb County, like Wayne County, doesn’t have a countywide millage to support vocational education. In contrast, neighboring Oakland County has a millage that supports four technical campuses run by the regional intermediate school district, Oakland Schools.

The Oakland district said it would apply for a new K-12 equipment grant, with a focus on advanced manufacturing, health sciences, transportation, construction skills and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

Macomb County’s ISD coordinates career-tech programs offered within 21 local school districts in the county, Williams said.

Vocational programs get some extra state funding to offset higher operating costs than in general education, but several administrators said the funding isn’t designed to cover large capital equipment costs.

Macomb County instructors have requested such equipment as 3-D printers, construction equipment, medical devices and mannequins and welding simulators, Williams said.

Welding is a high-demand field at the William D. Ford Career-Technical Center in Westland, with 32 students enrolled in each of two shifts during the school day, said Michele Harmala, superintendent of Wayne-Westland Community Schools, which runs the vocational center.

The welding program can’t support any more students per shift than 32, Harmala said, because to do so would require additional welding booths and ventilation systems – equipment that the district hasn’t been able to afford. In the 2013-14 school year, the Westland center considered adding 12 more welding stations to include more students who aren’t able to get into the program, Harmala said, at a cost of $350,000. The upgrade hasn’t yet happened.

When the district talks to business leaders along the I-275 industrial corridor, Harmala added, “welding always comes up as an area that people are needed.”

In 2015, the community college program awarded a total of $50 million to 18 colleges, which used the new equipment to support programs in such fields as welding, water resource management, CNC machining, craft brewing, automotive repair, 3-D printing and health care, Murray said. The colleges contributed $21.5 million in matching funds.

Henry Ford College in Dearborn received $4.5 million in grant dollars toward a $6.7 million equipment purchase, according to the state. The college has partnered with the Downriver Career Technical Consortium, based in Flat Rock and serving students from nine mostly Downriver school districts, and Ford Motor Co.’s Flat Rock Assembly plant to offer a program in mechatronics for high school juniors and seniors, said Mary Brockschmidt, the Downriver consortium’s director. Henry Ford College supplied the equipment and the consortium provided the instructor and curriculum, Brockschmidt said.

The consortium’s top program needs include new auto lifts for its automotive technology program – “some of them are so old they can only align cars made prior to the year 2000,” said Jackie Leonard, its project coordinator, adding that one lift could cost more than $20,000 and the consortium runs three auto programs – a tractor and greenhouse for an agriscience program, robotic welders and plasma cutters.

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Mon, 02/13/2017 - 8:45am

It's about time more people realize the value and need for high quality vocational training programs in high school! Children should be granted the opportunity to graduate with a diploma and certificate. Traditional college is a wonderful option for any but not all, and for those students that do not see college as a viable immediate option, they need skilled trade programs that truly prepare them for the world of work and entrepreneurship.

Mon, 02/13/2017 - 9:50am

Well said! Unfortunately, the skilled trades have had a bad reputation, such as the butt crack plumbers, rip off repair garages, and low IQ construction workers, so it's about time that these kinds of jobs be promoted as viable employment options for young people.

Mon, 02/13/2017 - 9:59am

Let's think about past action by Mr. Snyder towards "skilled trades"- "Right to Work is not on my agenda"!

Mon, 02/13/2017 - 10:17am

This Old House program on PBS is encouraging young people to enter the trades for a rewarding career. They interview people who are now proficient in some aspect of the building trades and they are impressive. Very skilled and enjoying their careers.
Cheers to This Old House for their longtime honoring of the trades' men and women.

Mon, 02/13/2017 - 11:50am

Unfortunately, our GOP does not believe in paying (or protecting) our skilled craftsman at all. It's lower wages, no protection, no benefits and tax money to pay for providing skilled trades for businesses who pay campaign contributions.

Scott Roelofs
Mon, 02/13/2017 - 4:43pm

Hogwash, Rick. That's a left-wing talking point. Conservatives want everyone to be successful. In the real world, skilled workers can make a good living. We need diesel mechanics, heavy equipment operators, welders, electricians, millwrights, machinists, etc. Many of these jobs are quite different than they were 40 years ago due to technology advancements. Look at 2017 automobiles vs. 1977 automobiles to see the difference. A high school kid 40 years ago could get a job at age 18 and develop expertise over time. Not any more. One now needs a higher level of knowledge just to get his foot in the door of employment, unless he is content to run a cash register in retail. I have said for years that vocational programs need more emphasis on two fronts: 1. Providing the training programs, 2. Encouraging students to enroll. Not enough students today seem interested in earning more. By the way, the best wages, "protection" and job secuity is obtained by smart, dedicated people who strive to better themselves. Those who do nothing but wait for some employer to give them something, will end up being a drain on society.

Linda Weeks
Mon, 02/13/2017 - 10:33am

I support this initiative 100%. Many skilled trades can make more money and quickly get a job than many just out of law school. Not everyone needs college but everyone needs education.

Mon, 02/13/2017 - 12:43pm

Long over-due, especially with respect to those among the poor who need employment in order to lift themselves out of poverty. Why do I never see blacks working on construction of new housing?

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 3:00pm

Not in Detroit? There are plenty

Barb Burns-Briggs
Mon, 02/13/2017 - 8:14pm

I didn't vote for Governor Snyder and I never would, but I have sung his praises in attempting to rebuild the skilled trades high school programs. It was a big mistake to try to funnel all students into traditional college curriculums, especially with the increasing demand for skilled trade workers.

Mon, 02/13/2017 - 11:54pm

This is definitely needed. Question: What about students in rural areas? What about centrally located tech high schools to which all students would have access?

Lee Griffin
Tue, 02/14/2017 - 8:18am

I wholeheartedly support this idea. I would just add that all such programs should include an English component designed for today's high-tech workplace. Communication skills such as articulating information clearly, listening attentively, ordering thoughts in a logical sequence, using inclusive language, and writing concisely are more important than ever. They are often the dividing line between workers who are productive and successful in complex situations and those who fail. Eventually, the ability to move up to supervisory and management roles depends as much on communication skills as technical skills. They should be an important component of any workforce development effort in the 21st Century.

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 3:02pm

That should be a part of their English class or through middle school their Reading / Language Arts class. Also input from the family. My family definitely put a focus on communication skills.

Ray Kuzmin
Tue, 02/14/2017 - 4:51pm

Thank you to the powers to be for this legislation. BUT unless I am not reading it SOMEONE is missing A BIG portion of what the State needs in Skilled Trades. Where is the program for Electricians , Plumbers, HVAC and Carpenters? Do you not see the BIG VOID in Detroit with the limited ability to hire minorities for the projects they already have BUT cannot fill? PLEASE readdress the problems that construction is now experiencing and align with the skilled trades to correct the shortages!

Greg Eaton
Thu, 02/16/2017 - 3:04pm

Not to many carpenters or HVACS, but there are plenty of electricians and plumbers. The electricians and plumbers need to apply for those jobs.

Ray Kuzmin
Fri, 02/17/2017 - 3:25pm

Thank you for your comment. I do not know where you reside or work but the Detroit Projects are short on electricians as well as the tri county area. It is not uncommon for contractors to 'import' skilled trades from Ohio and Canada! My HVAC contacts say there are not enough young people in the pipeline to cover anticipated retirements coming in the next ten years as is the case with electricians. The Washtenaw electricians house has 'chairs' they have not be able to fill with qualified interns for many years now! Again if Ron, Joshua and Brooks are reading, this is a major problem!

Tue, 02/14/2017 - 8:23pm

Unfortunately many kids go to high school never knowing that they can go to tech schools as well as take college prep classes. Which is why way too many engineers graduate college with little to no practical hands on experience.

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 11:38am

I would be interested in setting up a voc tech schoo l in mid Michigan area would love to get ideas etc many of todays students are hands on they would like a job with a career

David L Richards
Sat, 02/18/2017 - 10:25am

This is a good move. Skilled trades are undervalued, and provide opportunities to make a good living. The only issue is that some people (I am thinking about Wisconsin) want to replace liberal arts education with vocational oriented goals. We need both.