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Opinion | Here are steps Michigan can take to improve our talent pool

To ensure Michigan’s economic competitiveness so that residents and businesses can grow and thrive, fast action is needed to maximize the ability of our workforce to meet the needs of a global 21st century economy.

Brian Calley
Brian Calley is president and CEO of the Small Business Association of Michigan and former lieutenant governor of Michigan. (Courtesy photo)

Michigan’s largest obstacles to maximizing our economic potential are our low labor force participation rates and demographic trends. It’s no secret that better educated and skilled citizens earn higher wages, receive better benefits, save more for emergencies, and are less vulnerable to poverty and unemployment. And they are more likely to create new businesses and jobs.

The good news is that Michigan has many great training programs along with new ideas that will bolster our talent development. They simply need to be well funded and designed for all businesses, including small businesses, if we are to make the biggest impact. After all, about half of Michigan’s jobs come from small businesses.

Extending funding for Michigan’s two best talent training programs is a logical place to start. The Going Pro Talent Fund has had great success upskilling existing talent in a business, leveraging demand from businesses and training from Michigan Works agencies. An expansion of this program could focus on addressing specific industry disruptions that exist in the workforce. Going Pro could also work with incumbent businesses to identify new pathways for talent.

The enhancement of Michigan Reconnect would be a game changer for many state residents. The program is already helping more than 90,000 adult students, who have begun training to expand their job and economic opportunities. We believe this program can be further strengthened by a newly formed Center for Adult College Success that provides needed resources and expertise to our universities and community colleges to ensure completion.

Michiganders would greatly benefit from the creation of new, innovative programs that will strengthen our talent pool and prepare them for careers quickly. We urge creation of Fast Track, a job training program for business attraction and retention, relying on both private sector and public sector providers for support. While there are several job training programs in Michigan, expertise is scattered around, and they lack the flexibility or responsiveness needed to meet the needs of business attraction and retention projects.

The creation of the Michigan Achievement Scholarship program would be an innovative way to quickly help Michigan’s workforce and talent shortages. The program would give graduating high school students attending in-state four-year colleges and universities up to $6,000 a year, which those attending community colleges or private occupational schools could qualify for up to $3,000 a year. More than three-quarters of this year’s graduating class would be eligible, which would help make an immediate impact.

Michigan also will benefit greatly from a near completer fund, which would focus on helping individuals who are close to completing a degree finish their studies. We could also significantly bolster Michigan’s talent growth by creating an internship public private partnership, financially supporting up to 50 percent of the cost of a paid internship. This would be a great incentive for our small businesses to hire interns and a gateway to ensure young talent put down roots in Michigan and receive the essential training they need to succeed.

It’s clear that Michigan has the ideas needed to revitalize our talent development strategy. We have never been in a better position to provide critical support to our talent needs. The significant amount of additional federal funding the state received combined with the budget surplus the state has this year make funding of our talent needs possible in short order.

The time is long overdue to invest in a comprehensive talent development effort to properly prepare our residents for the jobs of today and tomorrow. The success of our businesses, residents and economy depends on it.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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