When I was running my newspaper company back in the go-go 1980s and '90s, finding and hiring good talent was tough -- especially at the wages we could afford.
Michigan’s economy was on a roll. The auto companies were hiring everybody in sight. Employers were fighting to recruit talented people, and the newspaper business was no exception.
It was hard for my company, which was trying to publish dozens of high-quality community papers in three states. Folks with journalism degrees ran to the big dailies and turned up their noses at mere (sniff!) community newspapers.
Experienced sales people couldn’t be found at any price. It even took me a couple years to find and hire a guy to run the computers that were beginning to take over my newsrooms.
Well, what a difference 20 years can make.
The job market is very different these days. Many folks holding non-technical, four-year college degrees (think English, history, and, yes, journalism) are unable to find work. But at the same time, companies are desperate to hire engineers and technicians. I know of licensed attorneys who applied this summer for openings for community organizers … and not because they wanted to retrace the career path of President Obama!
So -- why is this? And where is the labor market going?
Well, some fascinating insights into Michigan’s tumultuous and scary job market can be found in Bridge (www.bridgemi.com), The Center for Michigan’s twice a week online news magazine. (Full disclosure, I’m the founder of the Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan “think-and-do tank“ designed to help improve quality of life in our state.
"Economic Life" is a special package from Bridge looking deeply into the state's economic performance and its jobs prospects for the near future. Among the findings:
*Michigan’s public and private universities annually grant 55,000 bachelor’s degrees, 45,000 to Michigan residents. But there are projected to be only 28,000 annual job openings in Michigan where a BA is the main requirement.
* There is a disconcerting mismatch between degrees produced and jobs available in many fields. For example, Michigan colleges and universities graduate 15 percent more teachers than there are likely to be annual job openings through 2018. When it comes to attorneys, there are 133 percent more newly minted lawyers every year than there are jobs for them.
Even worse, twice as many students emerge with communications/journalism/public relations degrees granted than the number of projected job openings.
* At the same time, employers see an annual shortage of 5,000 graduates in business, management and financial operations. We’re only producing enough bachelor’s or master’s degree holders to fill four-fifths of available science and math jobs. Meanwhile, there is a 14 percent projected annual shortage of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals.
Jim Danielski of Career Planning Specialists in Plymouth told Bridge: “Are we graduating too many of the wrong kind of college graduates? I wouldn’t argue with that. … It’s not uncommon for people with a four-year degree to come to me and say, ‘I had no idea I would have trouble getting a job.'"
The mismatch between the kinds of graduates Michigan’s education system is pumping out and employers’ needs of employers is troublesome, for a number of reasons.
First, it suggests lots of Michigan grads won’t find jobs here, so they have to leave. I’ve heard it countless times: “There just isn’t anything here for me,” from a young person leaving the state. Jack Litzenberg, senior program officer at the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, told Bridge: “We’re going to become an export state.”
Export of highly trained people, that is, not raw materials. Indeed, a lot of taxpayer money is leaving the state on the shoulders of departing Michigan college and university graduates.
The second big reason this is bothersome: How come so many young people have such a limited understanding of the job market they’ll face once they finish college? Simple. The number of high school counselors has dropped sharply as cuts in state support have taken hold.
The American School Counselor Association reported an average ratio of one counselor to 638 students in Michigan in the 2008-09 school year.
Last, the education industry is facing the same situation Henry Ford famously described when he said of his automobile company: “You can buy a car in any color you want, so long as it’s black.”
In other words, our education system is largely supply -- not demand -- driven. Colleges and universities typically don’t take into much consideration the demand from the (employer) side of the labor market in granting degrees. Granted, it isn’t really the responsibility of a university to push one career over another.
But university presidents, planners and deans might want to take a hard look at the labor market data developed by Bridge.
Naturally, things are never exactly as projected. But the broad contours of the emerging economy are becoming clear.
And college and counselors, universities and their deans would undoubtedly save their graduates a lot of frustration and grief -- and save taxpayers a lot of money -- if they paid more attention to the economic realities of the market than they do now.
Editor’s note: Former newspaper publisher and University of Michigan Regent Phil Power is a longtime observer of Michigan politics and economics. He is also the founder and president of The Center for Michigan, a nonprofit, bipartisan centrist think-and-do tank, designed to cure Michigan’s dysfunctional political culture. The opinions expressed here are Power’s own and do not represent the official views of the Center. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.