Help Wanted: Yes, there really are 70,000 good jobs open

At Metal Flow in Holland, company officials wish they could clone workers like Kyle Hubers.

Hubers grew up in a family where his dad fixed cars, did woodworking – and passed along a love of labor with his hands to his son. Hubers earned a two-year degree in manufacturing at Ferris State University and joined Metal Flow full time in 2008 as an apprentice.

By 2012, Hubers had his journeyman toolmaker card and today runs a precision auto parts machine that demands both trigonometry and tolerances to the thousandths of an inch.

“I've always been a hands-on type of person,” said Hubers, 28, who is paid $20 an hour, with potential to earn much more. “It's right up my alley. I get to go to work and build something every day.”

Despite that, Metal Flow Chairman Leslie Brown said good-paying jobs like tool maker, set-up technician and die setter often go begging at the firm.

“Our work is highly technical and we struggle to fill our positions,” Brown said. “We need technical individuals, good collaborators and people who like to work with their hands. We had such a strong push for everyone to get a college education. Not everybody is inclined to go that way and during that time we dropped a lot of shop classes.”

Metal Flow hardly stands alone. State officials peg the labor shortage in Michigan at more than 75,000 workers. That is based on the number of unfilled jobs on the state’s jobs web site, a figure that includes thousands of openings in advanced manufacturing, healthcare and engineering.

As some see it, Michigan is in a race with other states to see who adapts best to a changing, higher-skilled employment landscape.

“It will certainly be important that a sufficient labor supply exists in the industries and occupations that are going to be in demand in this economy,” said Bruce Weaver, an economic analyst with the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget. “It means our skilled workforce will need to continue to expand in order for us to continue to fill jobs going forward.”

Begging for labor skills

Last month, Gov. Rick Snyder singled out the skilled labor shortage at the Mackinac Policy Conference as a critical challenge for Michigan.

“The place that does this the best over the next few years will have a strategic economic advantage,” he said.

Snyder cited programs designed to fix the problem, including the Michigan Advanced Technician Training program, where southeast Michigan employers pay tuition for three years for employees who rotate between work and getting an advanced associate's degree.

In West Michigan, manufacturers pay workers to earn a one- or two-year degree in manufacturing at Grand Rapids Community College while they earn on the job as apprentices.

But economists say this talent gap will not be bridged with any one program, as Michigan climbs out of a deep recession that cost an estimated 800,000 jobs. With jobs growing and unemployment falling from 14.2 percent in August 2009 to 7.4 percent in April, there are fewer workers with the right skills vying for more jobs.

A similar story is playing out on the national scene, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calculated there were 4.5 million job openings in April.

That included 94,000 in construction, 272,000 in manufacturing, more than 600,000 each in health care and food service and more than 800,000 in business and professional services.

Weaver, the state analyst, said the shortage is also driven by an aging work force, as Baby Boomer workers retire and too few qualified candidates line up to replace them.

Among other jobs that are open or expected to be in demand in years ahead:

Engineer: A search on Pure Michigan Talent Connect, the state's job search site, found more than 4,500 openings for engineers earlier this month. Among firms looking for engineers is Elektrobit, a global software firm focused on the automotive and wireless industry. It maintains a technical center in suburban Detroit and has job openings for software engineers, test engineers and engineering project managers. “It’s a challenge for us right now. We do have a gap with regard to talent,” said Damian Barnett, director of automotive software for the Farmington Hills operation. Barnett speculates that the state lost engineers to other states during the recession. “A lot of talent has left Michigan,” he said.

Truck driver: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, national demand for truck drivers is projected to rise by 330,000 jobs by 2020. In 2012, it calculated there were 1.6 million tractor-trailer and heavy-truck drivers in the United States, including 48,220 in Michigan. In 2013, trucking firms across the state reported a shortage of truck drivers. Ottawa County-based Luther Logistics reported that applications were down from four or five a week to two a month. E.L. Hollingsworth and Co., a freight company based near Flint, estimated it could hire 50 extra drivers if more qualified candidates would apply.

In West Michigan, 38,000 additional workers with four-year college degrees will be needed by 2025.

Construction worker: According to an Associated General Contractors of America survey released earlier this year, 86 percent of companies plan to start hiring this year, compared to 78 percent in 2013. More than 60 percent of firms reported they could not fill key professional and craft positions. According to state calculations, online ads in Michigan for construction job openings grew by 25 percent, from 10,600 jobs in April 2013 to 11,650 in April.

Nurse: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of needed nurses will grow from 2.74 million in 2010 to 3.45 million in 2020, as the population ages and health care needs rise. But a 2010 survey by the Okemos-based Michigan Center for Nursing predicts the nursing workforce in Michigan will soon lose large numbers to retirement, with more than a third of registered nurses age 55 or older and 43 percent of licensed practical nurses 55 or older. The state projects a 21 percent rise in demand for registered nurses and 20 percent for licensed practical nurses by 2018.

In Grand Rapids, nonprofit economic growth agency Talent 2025 projects the job market in a 13-county West Michigan region will demand 38,000 additional workers with four-year college degrees by 2025. It projects a decline of 50,000 jobs by then for workers with less than a high school diploma.

“This is just a fundamental shift for the state as technology drives production and success,” said Talent 2025 Director Kevin Stotts.

Doing what schools aren’t

In West Michigan, Autocam Corp. has been at this game longer than most. Sale of the Kentwood-based firm was announced July 21 to Tennessee-based NN Inc. in a deal worth $300 million. The transaction is expected to close in the third quarter.

More than two decades ago, it began an in-house training program to teach workers to operate specialized machine tools used in building precision components for the automotive industry. About 20 years ago, the firm launched a structured apprentice program to fill a void of qualified workers.

Autocam President John Kennedy – who will become the largest shareholder of NN – pins part of the talent gap on failure of K-12 school districts to prepare students not bound for college for the demands of today's work force. Just one fourth of high school graduates who apply to Autocam for apprenticeship positions successfully complete a basic skills test that includes arithmetic, reading, measurement and problem solving.

“I think we are missing the boat,” he said.

In 2012, Autocam established the Advanced Manufacturing Program in collaboration with Grand Rapids Community College to maintain a better pipeline of manufacturing talent. Applicants accepted into the program start at Autocam at $13 an hour while they attend classes for a two-year program paid in full by the firm. Classes include material science, industrial graphics and trigonometry as well as English.

When they complete school and 8,000 hours on the job, machinists earn at least $17.50 an hour at a plant where the average annual income for an hourly worker exceeds $50,000. Autocam also picks up the tab if they want to earn a four-year degree in fields like engineering.

The program has since been expanded to include several other West Michigan employers, including Steelcase Corp. and Herman Miller Inc.

“Some our best engineers and certainly technicians have come out of that program,” Kennedy said.

Even so, the firm has at least 20 machinist job openings at its Kentwood plant it could fill today if qualified candidates walked through the door.

Autocam employs about 700 people at seven plants in North America and another 800 at factories in Europe, South America and Asia, including China.

Kennedy said he has no difficulty finding qualified workers for his operation in China.

“I don't have trouble recruiting advanced manufacturing people in China. We need to get together as a community to see how we can get to these kids earlier.”

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Tue, 07/15/2014 - 10:15am
Sorry, but $20 hr is not the wage that supports the trained worker who lives here and not China these employers want. They cry about lack of trained workers who can work at Walmart for the wages they offer and want to import basically "free" labor. Where is the demand for affordable education and a living wage.
Tue, 07/15/2014 - 10:54am
Truck driving is not an attractive option for many people, the pay is too low and the hours are brutal for the long distance driver, no surprise that the turnover rate is high. They need to substantially increase the starting pay if they are going to attract enough people that will stick with the job.
James Chapman
Tue, 07/15/2014 - 11:08am
My father and I were talking about this the other day during my birthday dinner. We passed a location that has had a help wanted sign out in front for over a year. The company is a tool and machine manufacturing company if I remember correctly. This happens to be the industry my father is in. He said the big issue is that so few people are going the non-college route and are going into trades. Why is this? The schools for the last 20 plus years have been pushing the "you have to go to college" route to all students. The problem is many students are not college program type students by their nature. That's not saying they are not hard working, but academics are not their strong suit. There was a time when they could go to work in a trade program, work as an apprentice for 3 or 4 years and get a journeyman trade card to start making a very solid salary in a trade, with little to no college education. The problem now is the people making decisions about what is good for schools (the government) have actually royally screwed up the future for a generation and are impacting the ability of businesses to get quality workers as a result. Not all jobs require algebra II, but we require all students to pass that class to graduate. Back to the conversation about my father. He works at a manufacturing plant that will be in trouble in a couple years when he retires. Why? Over the course of so many years many of the processes have become automated. There are some that have not become automated however. He is the last person working in that shop that actually has experience working with the "old machinery" that they still use for some jobs. He is the only one who knows the way to set up the machines, and make changes to the machines as needed. He can still get in an fix the machines that are still in use. He will be 66 in January and might only work another year or two, but the company hasn't asked him about training anyone else to do the work they often ask him to do, because he is the only one that can.
Tue, 07/15/2014 - 11:35am
We already have a couple of answer of why people shouldn't be trying tofill the open jobs. Let's start the count: - it doesn't pay enough, is that for enter level or for a proven worker? - it is brutal work, is that for for long hours, physical exertion, is it for mental stamina? I expect there will be many more such answers. I have to admit we have heard so much about how people earned better wages in the past, maybe we should hear about what the work was like, how people were willing to make the necessary sacrifices to support their families, how they were able to work smarter and earn more once they were employed. Today it seems so many have reasons why people shouldn't try and nobody is asking who is succeeding and why. I would like to ask those who aren't working whether they would like any of those jobs listed and if they do what are the barriers preventing them from applying for those jobs on the list they would like. I wonder if each person who has an answer why the jobs aren't or shouldn't be filled would have the patience to ask or answer some questions before giving their casting their answers in cement. Why do we have people working the engineering jobs, the truck driving jobs, for the construction jobs, for the nursing jobs? What are the barriers they had to overcome, why do they work their respective jobs? How were they able to get that job? My concern is if we only talk about the exception (the reasons not to work) then we will forget what it takes get work and what it means to work. .
Sun, 08/03/2014 - 12:52pm
I would like to know what they are living on that they can afford to be so picky about what they will do?
Dan West
Tue, 07/15/2014 - 12:04pm
There is a disconnect between education policy and demands of the marketplace. If Michigan residents want K-12 and higher education to better prepare young people to meet the demands of the future workforce, we need innovative and open-minded policy makers to provide leadership bridge education policy and the needs of Michigan employers. Educators need the curriculum focus to lean less on theoretical testing and more on practical uses for math and sciences (like this article connected trigonometry to the skilled toolmaker). This will create an environment for more engaged students. Likewise, the private sector needs to do a better job of explaining the skills needed for their future workers, and do more to support policy makers and educators to properly adjust curricula so Michigan students are competitive academically and better prepared for the future workforce.
Bill Bresler
Tue, 07/15/2014 - 12:52pm
The local chamber of commerce exec wrings his hands because employers can't fill skilled manufacturing jobs. Those jobs pay$13 per hour, hardly a living wage. 12 years ago those same jobs paid $20 per hour. Young people are not likely to want those jobs. They watched their fathers and grandfather lose their jobs, stripped of their pensions, unions busted, and tossed aside as soon as the depression/recession hit. Those workers either aged-out of the workforce or are considered too old (read "too expensive") to hire. Schools, too, have pushed students away from trades, with strong support from parents. I'd like to see a trade charter school open, but it's not likely to happen, since charters seem to be a darling of conservatives. Can't have your kids end up joining a union, can you? Our nation has no real industrial policy. Corporate policy, yes. Industrial/manufacturing policy, no. I hope the young man who attended Ferris State and now makes $20 an hour has his student loans paid off, because when the next recession hits, not even bankruptcy will save him.
Janet Vandenabeele
Tue, 07/15/2014 - 1:25pm
And what about us over-educated, under-paid, student debt-burdened folks -- young adults, family types and middle agers -- who can and should be making more and contributing more to the economy and to the work world in general? We can quit our jobs and move to GR and make $13.50 an hour? Don't get me wrong, these are excellent, micro-solutions. Private industry should contribute more to training, as is the case in Europe and other countries with genuine manufacturing (as opposed to sweat shop) jobs. But I have to agree with Dan West's comments. Until we accept that standardized test-driven education isn't producing manufacturing-ready students, for a variety of reasons, and until we start getting these programs wholesale in the Detroit area, the vast majority of these jobs will just keep flowing to Asia and elsewhere. And we'll keep devising cynical schemes to bring immigrants here instead of helping our own.
Tue, 07/15/2014 - 1:58pm
Another factor hurting the trucking business is that many potential drivers can't pass a mandatory drug test.
Tue, 07/15/2014 - 2:18pm
Yes, it's a matter of having the right skills...and the right skills require advanced education...always. Parents need to foster the value of advanced education or skills training, and the contribution that elementary and secondary education make to that effort, starting early in their children's lives. A wise friend once told me that if parents never let post-secondary education be an option, then kids won't grow up thinking it is.
Wed, 07/16/2014 - 2:30am
Interesting - my father worked as a jourrneyman die maker for GM. GM provided 100% of the training, and when he retired 20 years ago he was making over $8/hr more than the guy mentioned at the beginning of this story. It seems more and more that business doesn't want to take care of their end of the bargain. I'm sure they wouldn't have a hard time finding workers who would do the job if those same workers didn't have to pay for all their training and hang their hopes on finding a job when they're done.
Thu, 07/17/2014 - 3:21pm
Sun, 07/20/2014 - 12:19am
Our nonprofit, Uplift, Inc., is hosting an event, Automation Workz, September 6, 2014 at the Comau Innovation Campus. Our goal is to expose parents to the new automated factories, and advanced manufacturing jobs. Parents can influence their students to acquire the skills necessary for these jobs earning $40,000 per year. Invite families to attend. Register at
Sun, 07/20/2014 - 9:26am
$40,000 is only enough to barely get by today for a family of four. $20.00 with full bennies is barely enough to get by. Yes There is a shortage of skilled workers, but there is also a shortage in employer loyalty and compensation.
Beth Fiebig
Sat, 10/04/2014 - 1:44pm
Wow makes me wonder how we made it on under 40,000 per year. We had 4 kids. No we did not give them college money or spend much on them or us,but we made it. Our kids are gone now and we make 32,000 a year. Go figure,our wage went down while inflation went up. We are happy that we have s great Christian marriage,someday we will be in a ace where THONGS mean NOTHING! :-) :-) :-) :-) :-)
Beth Fiebig
Sat, 10/04/2014 - 1:46pm
Lol.. meant to type....Things will mean nothing..
Sun, 07/20/2014 - 10:24am
After reading many of the comments I am not sure whether to be angry or sad? With some of the points made here I can see a real contribution to the number of unemployed; attitude. So a young man is making $40,000 a year at the age of 28, with a low cost of living. Somehow that sucks to some posters? There are engineering jobs open and as an engineer I can tell you that the potential for an engineering grad is much higher than that and starting wages are higher. Whatever happened to starting out in life and earning your way up? If these attitudes were at all evident in an interview I would not hire many of you because you seem to want a lot for little work? You create 'reasons" not to do things. This is a story about opportunity and getting started in life. I see people still complaining about Algerbra II when the President of a company talks about 1/4 of the applicants can't do arithmetic! It is attitude, don't complain about the curriculum or poison your kids with the complaints, let them complete it and be successful - set yourselves and your children for success not whining.
Sun, 07/20/2014 - 7:33pm
I have seen the job postings that the Michigan unemployed have to access. Most of the jobs that are not filled after months or years on the list are there for a reason. Here's a comical (not real) example, but the truth is closer to this than what the potential employers will have you believe. Wanted: Aerospace engineer needed. Must have PhD in rocket science, MBA, and BS in refractive light engineering. Must be available to work 12 hours per day, 7 days a week, at straight salary (docked for sick days). Basic medical benefits available at cost for employee's family after two years employment and for employee at 75% of cost after two years employment (as long as employee has had no sick days in those two years). 100% employee paid 401K retirement plan offered (no employer match). Must be willing to travel up to 90% of year. Generous salary of $18k/year. Who would want that job? They can't figure out why the jobs go unfilled... Geez!
Mon, 07/21/2014 - 6:19pm
There are not 70,000 good jobs in Michigan and everybody knows it regardless of what might be on the State's website. It's more conservative propaganda that feeds the "moochers" theory. If there is a shortage it's because schools can't keep up with the demand in areas such as nursing where people of all ages are waiting in line for years to be accepted. Some people cannot afford to work because the cost of daycare, transportation etc. is more than the job pays. Another issue is due to the fact that either a company or an economy can "go south" in a hurry and leave employees with a mortgage and educational loans and no prospects and no support (i.e. Michigan's abbreviated unemployment insurance). One of the main reasons workers fled to other states is because Michigan is pro-employer rather than pro-employee as the recent anti-union legislation demonstrated. Today a minimum wage worker costs an employer less than a slave cost a slave owner in adjusted dollars: Taking into account the initial purchase price, along with housing, food, health care, clothing, miscellaneous expenses, and around-the-clock guards, a slave could easily cost twice as much as a minimum-wage worker at today's rate. ( What we need is European style socialism as practiced by Canada and Germany. The farce in Tennessee with Volkswagen shows how anti-worker this country has become.
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Tue, 07/22/2014 - 8:36am
Good Morning Mr. Roelofs: I know you may not be intending to respond to any of our concerns here, but this is my take on things. What I take away from your article is that you are saying, our education in Michigan is not 'well' matched to the job market here. So what specific market, if that is the right word in this context, would you say our education system is, 'well' matched to? When decision makers, when our 'powers that be,' have made their formative decisions about what our 'education' shall be, what do you estimate they might have had in mind? Shall we now pray some new intentions might be better suited? You say, via Mr. Kennedy from Autocam's words, that China's communistic and highly bureaucratic system matches our job market much better than ours at this time. 'Kennedy said he has no difficulty finding qualified workers for his operation in China.' Did you know 'the poverty line' in China (Nov 2011) has been raised? It is now 2,300 yuan per year or about $1.00 per day. Let me say this another way. I believe our education system does exactly what it is intended to do. Just exactly what these, or dare I say 'our', formative decisions bring into existence. Do you feel we should revisit our formative intentions on what we are doing? I do.
Tue, 07/22/2014 - 11:39am
Here we go again with the nursing...... I became a nurse it took me thousands of dollars, lots of effort, and then..... I sat filling out hundreds of online applications that each took twenty minutes. Frustrating because it was asking for the same exact info that was included already on my uploaded resume. Most job applications asked for complete social security numbers and reference contacts----prior to landing an interview. We are like lemmings just putting our information out there somewhere for the shot a a job that we thought we would be good at. So far the offers ( and I hear I am lucky to get any) are not what I had in mind. Yes I want to help people, and I have a pleasant personality along with the training. I know it is a different time than twenty years ago when nursing students accepted offers prior to graduating. I am not chopped liver! I am probably better than many of the others who waltzed into jobs because of nepotism. I not quite ready to give up because I know I am damn good. I hear the only way to get a leg up is to "network". It used to be called using people to get somewhere. My connections after working at a hospital as an aid through school didn't land me a job automatically. And I guess it didn't show that this old goose could compete with the youngest by working and going to school. Please stop the myth of the nursing shortage. It really seems you need to "know" someone. BTW my sister in law had no trouble getting a job but has the morals of an alley cat......
Bernadine Bennett
Tue, 07/29/2014 - 12:12pm
we used to have programs on job site to teach apprentices or employees in training. when the manufacturers went over seas these programs died. Along with it the skills were lost. People can't go to school to get skilled without any idea of being able to use those skills. the employers have to go back to training their own. It is also time to let people understand the value of people who work with their hands and pay them a decent wage. It took me as long to get my journeyman's card as it does to get a doctorate. Apprentices have to go to school plus work on the job and it takes about 4 years. EITs can take up to 10 years to get a full card. Still this training isn't appreciated as being important. Other countries do. China, India, and others are training there peope to to take over our jobs and economy. Let's start training again while the people who can teach these trades are still alive. Time is running out.