Editor's note: As part of our ongoing "Economic Life" coverage, we asked two observers to give their analysis of Bridge's in-depth look into the state's economic performance and job prospects.
Bridge’s series about jobs, skills and educational attainment frames a crucial agenda for all of us in Michigan. We face a daunting, multi-dimensional policy challenge: stimulating job creation, increasing work-force skills, eliminating skills gaps employers encounter and making a complex and changing labor market navigable to job seekers.
The Michigan Economic Development Corp is undertaking important work that can help substantially address several of these issues.
They’re building talent maps in key industries that will begin painting a clear picture of the skills and credentials workers will need to be employable in those industries. And they’re organizing teams that specialize in working closely with major and emerging industries to understand and solve their work-force issues.
These are important steps, and MEDC is engaging diverse industry, education and work-force partners to do them well.
Increasing educational attainment is the major mountain we still must climb. We know that workers with post-secondary degrees or certificates overall are much less likely to be unemployed and do far better in terms of income. And, as the Bridge series notes, 7 out of 10 jobs that will be added in Michigan by 2018 will require post-secondary education or training.
However, just 35 percent of state adults today possess a post-secondary credential. That’s well below the national average. And most states, including those already with higher educational attainment rates, are mounting large scale campaigns to move their numbers upward.
Michigan needs a similar commitment and aligned strategy, with the governor, other elected officials, business, education, labor and community organizations working together to lead the way. Components needed include:
* Identifying industry-validated certification as an important part of the goal. Technical certificates that are either issued by industry or administered by others, but trusted and used by employers, represent a crucial dimension of post-secondary attainment. We need to recognize the importance of technical jobs, whether in building trades careers, information technology, health care or many other fields. It’s time to make it clear: post-secondary attainment includes more choices than just a university degree.
* Supporting working-age adults in obtaining degrees and credentials needed in the marketplace. Michigan has many thousands of workers who will struggle to obtain family-supporting jobs if they don’t obtain a post-secondary credential. No Worker Left Behind offered up to two years of free tuition to support obtaining meaningful credentials to roughly 165,000 workers who were either unemployed or working in low-income jobs. The federal funding that made such support possible has shrunk dramatically; other public-private partnerships to encourage/support degree and certificate attainment must be developed.
* Declaring that a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) certificate is a step towards post-secondary attainment, not an end unto itself. In a different economy, a high school diploma or GED was often enough to help a job seeker obtain and succeed in a good job. In today’s economy, we should think of a diploma or GED as a building block and set expectations that all learners should be aiming at some form of post-secondary education or training.
* Devising a funding strategy for adult learning. One out of three working-age adults inMichigan lack basic skills required to be employable. Some are unemployed; others live with the risk that if their current job disappears, they’ll struggle to find a new one. Michigan’s funding support for basic skills development has shrunk in 20 years from $800 million to $20 million. It is crucial and timely for the state to rethink how it could alter the design and performance of basic skills development, and how to fund a new strategy at a much greater level than is now the case.
* Increasing educational attainment is essential to the success of employers and workers across Michigan. Bridge is doing vital work in describing how dramatically jobs are changing along with the skills and credentials workers need to succeed. Michigan needs to be a leader in forging innovative solutions, building on the good work now getting started.
Editor's note: Larry Good is a member of the Center for Michigan's Steering Committee. Bridge Magazine is a project of the Center for Michigan.