Opinion | Michigan schools, businesses and unions must align in talent race

Doug Smith is executive director of Economic and Workforce Development at Oakland Community College

Michigan faces not only a skills gap but a very insufficient pipeline of willing and able workers to fill jobs in a robust economy. Certainly, the continued low K-12 enrollments and the confusing and declining immigration policy leave us wanting for workers. Equally troubling is the size of the disengaged workforce. Today the average unemployment time is 40-45 weeks. All the research concludes those unemployed for over 40 weeks are unlikely to ever enter the workforce. This lack of reentry shows up in the decline in able-bodied 25 to 35-year-old males in the workforce.

The goal of educational reform, especially for community colleges, should be to declare to parents and students that they will help develop the skills necessary for students of all ages to be able to compete in a world that is ever changing around the eight technologies identified as Industry 4.0.  

Automation Alley’s Technology in Industry Report 2018 identifies these technologies and begins to define their impacts. Artificial Intelligence (AI), additive manufacturing and advanced materials, big data, cloud computing, robotics, Modeling, Simulation, Visualization and Immersion (MSVI), cybersecurity and the Internet of Things (IOT) are already impacting every aspect of modern life.

While many changes have occurred in education, real pervasive fundamental restructuring has not been achieved. The access to information, just through Google alone (almost any question is answered), should be changing education from a lecture format and endless hours in the library to one of teachers facilitating learning. Education should be about career paths and lifelong learning. The first question educators might ask is; what is it that you as an individual like to do and what are you good at. Building off of those answers should be the exploration of relevant career paths and skill development.

A first step in this journey must be for the three groups most responsible for short-term training to collaborate: education (K-12 and community colleges for entry level), companies and unions. All of these groups conduct training and have some exemplary programs, but operate on parallel tracks. Together these programs come nowhere close to the scale of meeting the needs of upskilling the current workforce or filling the more than 100,000 job openings in Michigan.

Experiential learning must be put back into the structure of the classroom. Think Kettering University. Most people learn best “by doing” and technology now affords us the opportunity to make the classroom a lively hands-on environment. Overall better early assessment of each person’s learning style or challenges can make a huge difference in people’s ability and willingness to learn. Teachers should be learning experts. People learn differently; some are visual, others auditory etc.

First Robotics is one example which could dramatically change STEM education. The First Robotics curriculum from preschool to high school is centered on experiential learning (hands-on) and requires and encourages peer group learning and teamwork. While a few schools and even states (Georgia) have actually adopted the curriculum for schools, most schools have a long way to go in integrating First Robotics, as evidenced in that it is still a predominately after-school activity

Structuring education along the lines of competency-based achievement (digital badges and credentials) provides the opportunity for individuals to build confidence and leads to the individual being more willing and able to take personal responsibility for their actions and shaping the future. In general, schooling and even society value activity over achievement. “Seat time” is measured over performance. One educator puts it that we are measuring the “wrong end.”

Three factors in learning, which lead to three critical baseline skills in the work world are communications, teamwork and personal responsibility. This still acknowledges the importance of skills like problem-solving, creativity and critical thinking. But teamwork is too often sent out to the playground or found in sports, not as much in the classroom, even though the first skill in the work world is often how well you can work in teams or with coworkers. Likewise, peer group learning gets lost in the lecture for 50-minutes scenario. Even adults continue this pattern of lost learning opportunities in conferences where they get talked at far too much and not enough real-time for interaction with the other participants. Networking time is often an afterthought or too limited in most conferences.

If Michigan is to win the “Talent Race,” parents and students must demand relevant experiential learning environments that lead to in-demand jobs. Companies have to create new partnerships with educational institutions, beginning with supplying employees that can teach a few nights a week, maybe even as part of their job responsibilities. Educational institutions have to seek out soon-to-be and retirees that can share their skills in the classroom. Education leadership at all levels must be willing to implement transformational classroom experiences.

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Wed, 10/24/2018 - 12:47pm

Thank you Mr. Smith. Finally some common sense to change the educational system of Michigan. The idea of teamwork, collaboration and dialogue has been missing from our educational system for years. Get politics out of education. The last many years of teaching to the test instead of creating a curriculum that will advance our students has been ridiculous, and left our kids at the bottom of the pack.

We need some REAL EDUCATIONAL LEADERS, not politicians and businessmen, who "think they know" the right things to do. Educators have been disrespected under this administration with the only thing showing for themselves is a "balanced budget" and cutting taxes for business, and devastating a once great educational system.

I hope that Mr. Smiths ideas and suggestions are taken as expert witness to what needs to happen in MI.

Wed, 10/24/2018 - 4:20pm

I am glad you emphasized personal responsibility. Most of the problems experienced by employers with employees boil down to a deficiency in this area. The big question is how do you teach that!

Wed, 10/24/2018 - 5:46pm

Responsibility has to be taught at a young age, by the time they are of working age if they haven't learned those lessons yet it is
too late. Behaviour and attitude patterns are already established.

Thu, 10/25/2018 - 12:20pm

Unfortunate but probably true. Probably learn from their parents ... which is big part of problem.

Wed, 10/24/2018 - 6:41pm

This problem has been 30 years in the making. Society has shamed people who wanted to be skilled tradespeople.

Wed, 10/24/2018 - 7:08pm

This is a sore spot with me. When companies sign agreements to NOT hire workers away from each other by offering better pay, benefits, and preferred shifts (causing wages to increase), they're not really interested in hiring experienced talent or improving/increasing the talent pool. They want cheap labor.

The solution is a) offer excellent wages, benefits and preferred shifts, b) treat employees with respect, and c) be a company someone would be proud to be a part of. If the money and opportunities exist and skilled trades (or whatever) are respected, people will want to enter the field.

Companies need to share the wealth, but they only want to do that at the top management tier.

Fri, 10/26/2018 - 5:26pm

I would like to hear more from Mr. Smith about why there will be more candidates, why the candidates will want to take the training and do the studying.
Mr. Smith places great emphasis on the means and methods for developing workforce candidates, offering no insight into why candidates would want the training or even why they would want the work.
When recruiting for jobs, trying to influence people’s decisions, Mr. Smith may want to consider it is easiest and most effective learning what is important to people so you can properly frame your message [it isn’t what you say but how it’s heard], and fitting your message into the whole of a person’s story.
For all of Mr. Smith’s good intentions, he may want to consider broadening his focus to include the pool that his candidates come from and begin investing in their development, instigating their desire, starting to paint a picture of work and all its value. Without the individual’s desire to learn or to work, no matter what the training means/methods the results he wants will not happen.