Raising the talent level of Michigan workers

Michigan’s unemployment rate for September was 5.0 percent. That was better than the national rate (5.1 percent) for the first time in 15 years.

Speaking of dramatic progress, our jobless rate was nearly seven percent last year and more than double that – 10.3 percent – just four years ago.

That’s the good news.

But at the same time...

  • The average weekly paycheck for workers decreased in more than half of Michigan counties since the year 2000.
  • Five out of seven projected fastest-growing occupations in Michigan over the next few year offer pay so low that workers might qualify for food stamps.
  • A quarter of Michigan workers are barely above the poverty line and – in a world of unreliable mass transit -- just one car breakdown away from unemployment.
  • In the city of Detroit, where the unemployment rate for 2010 (the most recent year available) was 24.8 percent, there are still too many residents who suffer from being functionally illiterate.

For the most part, we’ve survived the Great Recession. But there’s a long, long way to go to a widely prosperous economy. That – and the realization that we all need to become more entrepreneurial – is sinking in all around our state. Consider three new and significant workforce development startups:
In West Michigan, Talent 2025 was started in 2010 by 70 employers, with more than 70,000 workers who recognized that worker skills and talent were the keys to the region’s prosperity. The organization works to “dramatically improve the quality and quantity of the region’s talent to meet increasingly more complex and diverse workforce needs.”

Just last week came news of the new Detroit Workforce Development Board, bringing together 21 CEO’s from southeast Michigan, along with foundation, education and labor leaders. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan also announced the appointment of Jeff Donofrio as workforce development director. Donofrio, a veteran of Ford Motor Co.’s government affairs staff, has also run the offices of Congressmen Sander Levin and John Dingell.

At the state level, the Michigan Talent Investment Agency was created in March to fill the gap between workers with the right skills and employers “in need of highly skilled workers for the jobs of today and tomorrow.” It is designed to link together state efforts in job preparedness, career-based education, worker training, employment assistance and unemployment insurance.

Time was when a young person could graduate from high school – or maybe even drop out – and go down the road for a good-paying job bolting on right fenders at Ford, Oldsmobile or Pontiac. No more. Fiat-Chrysler’s Dundee Engine Plant, for example, requires new hires to have at least an associate’s degree from community colleges.

The fundamental fact of today’s economy is that virtually every future job that earns enough to support a family requires some post-high school credential. Stephanie Comai, director of the Talent Investment Agency, says her greatest ambition is “for every kid who graduates from high school to have a concrete career-and-skills plan.”

Consistent with Comai’s hopes, the state has just published “Michigan’s HOT 50,” a listing of tomorrow’s high-demand, high-wage careers that demand education and training after high school. The list starts with Accountants and Auditors ($29.67 median hourly wage), proceeds through Licensed Practical and Vocational Nurses ($21.27) and ends with Veterinarians, who pull down a median wage of $43.71.

But while education beyond high school is clearly needed, there’s also pretty good evidence that families who think their kids must have a four-year college degree to survive need to think again. Both big Michigan utility companies have openings for linemen that pay upwards of $100,000 a year. I don’t know many starting lawyers who make that much.

Probably because of the now-extinct pipeline for low-skilled young people into the auto industry, Michigan is notable nationally for lacking clear and far-reaching policies to improve the workings of the labor and skills markets. Recognizing the enormous benefits resulting from encouraging investment in human capital is without doubt one of the most important policy priorities for the next decade for all of our leaders.

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Tue, 10/27/2015 - 9:53am
The numbers that really count are the job participation rate and the underemployed rate. In these, Michigan fares quite poorly.
Tue, 10/27/2015 - 10:56am
Are high school counselors tuned into the opportunities other than four year colleges? Do they have the tools to assess student aptitudes and interests? It is difficult to find carpenters, plumbers, welders and other tradesmen. CES
Marcella Fox
Tue, 10/27/2015 - 1:10pm
Tue, 10/27/2015 - 1:22pm
One big problem is that most (all?) public schools eliminated all shop classes (because of mandated course content?) so now kids grow up having no interest, exposure or idea of potential career options. (This even goes for those going into engineering). Maybe this is an opening for charter schools to offer this?
David Waymire
Wed, 10/28/2015 - 9:17am
If you talk to your local school leaders, you will see th biggest reason for ending shop, etc. was cost. Those classes are a lot more expensive than English or history. When our Legislature said "live within your means," schools did just that and cut costs, just as a business would. There are no charter schools offering those classes, either. If you want those classes restored, you will need to pay for them.
Sun, 11/01/2015 - 8:12am
It is absolutely not true that there are no charter schools with "hands on" shop and technology classes. You need to check out both Henry Ford Academy in Dearborn and any of the multiple "dual enrollment" programs meeting on community and non-selective admissions college campuses across the state. Henry Ford Academy meets in the Henry Ford Museum, and uses the collection and workrooms of the museum and the facilities of Greenfield Village to supplement their traditional high school curriculum. These students get plenty of opportunity and encouragement to "tinker" with projects that support their learning. Genius-level tinkerers Henry Ford and Thomas Edison are explicitly held up to those students as exemplars of what can be accomplished with both inspiration (theory) and perspiration (hands-on effort). My kids attend Washtenaw Technical Middle College, and are learning to actually do NC machine programming, design and build electronic, hydraulic and pneumatic controls systems, and robotics alongside self-directed college students and some apprentices from local businesses. Their friends are learning food prep, nursing skills, and auto mechanics. In addition, some WTMC students are working primarily to get a head start on liberal arts degrees. While most WTMC graduates enroll in a 4 year degree program, those who choose differently get out of high school with a certificate or associates' degree that qualifies them for an entry level job in their chosen field. Yes, many Michigan school districts have short-sightedly eliminated shop, auto mechanics, and other hands-on learning opportunities. They've also limited students' exposure to personal finance, personal fitness (limit of 1 semester of gym / high school student for graduation!) and home economics / life skills. This is driven in large measure by insufficient time during the school day and the school year to cover everything our students need to learn to be well-prepared for 21st century world-wide competition.
David Waymire
Wed, 10/28/2015 - 9:18am
If you talk to your local school leaders, you will see the biggest reason for ending shop, etc. was cost. Those classes are a lot more expensive than English or history. When our Legislature said "live within your means," schools did just that and cut costs, just as a business would. There are no charter schools offering those classes, either. If you want those classes restored, you will need to pay for them.
David Waymire
Wed, 10/28/2015 - 9:18am
If you talk to your local school leaders, you will see the biggest reason for ending shop, etc. was cost. Those classes are a lot more expensive than English or history. When our Legislature said "live within your means," schools did just that and cut costs, just as a business would. There are no charter schools offering those classes, either. If you want those classes restored, you will need to pay for them.
Wed, 10/28/2015 - 2:51pm
I am certain you are right as far as cost, but interestingly I don't recall ever hearing a school district threaten to cut shop classes if a millage failed. They always went with cut band (expensive), cut art (expensive), cut sports (really expensive!), cut busing etc etc. Sure they were happy to dump them and redirect the money but this really fit well with the "we don't need them because we want all our kids going to college anyway" mind set.
Tue, 10/27/2015 - 2:49pm
It's admirable to focus on "leveling up" worker skills -- to some extent. But without tackling low wages broadly, it's a short-sighted solution. As the piece states, "Five out of seven projected fastest-growing occupations in Michigan over the next few years offer pay so low that workers might qualify for food stamps." Are we telling people who have low-wage jobs that, oh well, they'll just have to live in poverty? Someone has to do those jobs. And not everyone has the resources to "level up" to some high-paying gig. Yet these people work. Hard. And they deserve a living wage. Instead of putting all the effort into “dramatically improv[ing] the quality and quantity of the region’s talent," we should also pay some attention to “dramatically improv[ing] the quality and quantity" of the region’s pay strucure.
Charles Richards
Sun, 11/01/2015 - 4:18pm
The answer to 4310bb problem is to reduce the supply of people competing for low wage jobs. He is correct when he says,"Someone has to do those jobs." But if you reduce the number of people competing for them, employers will be forced to raise the compensation for them. Therefore, better training for everybody will help them as well.
Eric Sharp
Tue, 10/27/2015 - 3:05pm
The key factor is the kinds of jobs that are being created. People making minimum wage can't buy cars, homes or the other things that create a prosperous economy in a country where consumer spending is the most important part of that economy. And many if not most of these jobs offer no prospect for the worker to improve his or her lot over the years. If you want a better look at what the future holds for these people, shop at a Home Depot as I did the other day, where six registers were open. Five of them were self-service, with a single clerk standing by to help at all of them. Only one register had a clerk who checked out the goods. The problem with the minimum wage jobs that we're creating today is that they will be the easiest to eliminate through automation. And that problem will extend far beyond check-out clerks. If I were a young truck driver or cab driver I'd be looking for a new career, because the technology behind those new self-drive cars that we are all fascinated by will make their jobs obsolete in a very few years. And how much longer will it be before the burger you order at MacDonald's is made not by a low-paid fry cook but just drops out of a slot onto a grill that prepares and packages it automatically? The hard truth is that we are probably going to see a far different America 20 years from now, with a much bigger underclass whose primary concern will be making enough money to pay the bills for the cable TV and cell phone that keep them amused during long periods of unemployment.
Wed, 10/28/2015 - 12:57am
This sounds very encouraging. What I am concerned with is how it will translate in to people gatting jobs/careers in noticable numbers. I saw much of this approach at a former employer's back in the 70s, development of special education program at the local community college for employees to add to their technical knowledge and increase their job level, and an outreach beyind the normal area where employees were drawn from [including aggresive recruiting, providing transportation, entry training and coaches/mentors for learning expectation and addressing issues discouraging success. The reason expectations weren't achieve had to do with individual desire and change. My concern is that the emphasis is on opportunities, which are all important, but there needs to be focus on the individuals preparing them to recognize, value, and invest time and effort into taking advantage of the opportunities. . see “Why won't they hire me in Kalamazoo” from MLive: http://www.mlive.com/business/west-michigan/index.ssf/2014/03/why_wont_t..."Good intentions' without measurable results usually means little success.
Wayne O'Brien
Thu, 10/29/2015 - 10:23am
Indeed, do read the article that Duane wisely linked above. Duane is connecting the dots in ways that Michigan state government and Michigan state education officials are not. The article gives evidence of deep failings of cultural and societal institutions; the stress on families and lack of parenting skills or energy to parent after a day in the "real" world. Consider, not as a fix-it-all solution, but as a possibility worthy of serious consideration and piloting: making sure that teachers in Michigan schools remain with their students longer than nine months each school year. The teachers could fulfill the role of a known, trusted and caring adult who could provide the basics of societal consistency, caring and year-to-year evolving expectations ... in effect a year-to-year failsafe "school-parent" during the school day. This has been the practice in Waldorf schools for nearly 100 years now (teacher remains with students for 8 years whenever possible), and in FInland, since their reforms of the early 80s (teachers remain with students for about 6 years and consider themselves to be their students' "school parents".) Other countries like Germany have provided extended school years with the same teacher also. There are reasons why these educational systems are functioning well and our educational institutions are under constant stress with lackluster results ---- is it finally time to actually study what works elsewhere and try it here in Michigan?
Wed, 10/28/2015 - 1:48pm
Please tell me the route to becoming a "linewoman?"
Sun, 11/01/2015 - 8:25am
Check out this web page for more info on what the job entails, and how to apply at the two SE Michigan utilities that have current shortfalls. http://www.mitalent.org/line-technician/The job is physically hard; you climb utility poles with 20-75 lbs of safety gear and tools strapped to you. When there's been a storm that damages power lines, you sometimes have to work long hours in bad weather. There is a union, which is a plus to some people and a minus to others. However, the presence of a union means that once you have a few years' seniority, you have excellent job security, and company-paid rehab or retraining if you become physically unable to do the job. (There are relatively few field-assigned linemen or linewomen over 50-something.) All that said, lineman are extremely well paid, especially when they work overtime. There's lots of demand, both here and in other states. And there are less-physical jobs you can move on / over /up to, so there is a reasonable career path.
Wed, 10/28/2015 - 2:41pm
So the numbers are DOWN. fact after 6 months ..you are cut off. BUT check the numbers at DHS and ALL the agencys for FOOD. rent, children going homeless and hungry THAT BUDGET is bIG . check with the unemployment office and get the Figure on HOW much Money our goverment/Governor has collected from THE UNEMPLOYED : METRO TIMES July 1-7 2015.Ryan Felton HOW our SYSTEM really Works ...and how many people being .....OFF the SYSTEM .Contact ATTORNEY David Blandchard find him at the 8 mile Rd stripemall Court ???/// Department of Licensing & Regular Affairs(LARA) change to Department of Talent and Economic Develpment! etc etc the show the REAL "LIFE" of the unemployed
Wed, 10/28/2015 - 3:11pm
FIRST JOB expierience : age 16 hire in at $ 7.50 an hour Work hour 1-8 pm. there are no customers in the store , so the boss tell him./her to CLOCK-OUT but stay on the floor .when customer comes in you can CLOCK_IN. plus tell her/him to clean the bathroom OF the CLOCK> job has no jobdescription or Number. FIRST JOB expierince. NEED to get support from Labor Devision local?
John Q. Public
Sat, 10/31/2015 - 5:42pm
Remember when people were people? Then they were reduced to a "human resource". Now they're just capital, a necessary ingredient to making a profit. Employers just want to get capital and the lowest price available, and if they can get it cheaper, dump the original source. Do you think most people want to work for someone who doesn't even think of them as a person--just some "human capital?"
Sun, 11/01/2015 - 7:47am
My college age kids & many of their friends are planning on moving to Colorado as soon as they graduate. Not only because the job market is better - (the cannabis/hemp industries are booming out there!) but, more importantly, they are moving to get away from the extreme views of our Attorney General Bill Scheutte. To this generation, Schuette's number one enemy seems to be God's green herb and he will cast truth to the ground and twist the laws to further his agenda of turning innocent kids into felons as noted in this article: http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2015/10/prosecutors_cri... As long as Bill Schuette is Michigan's Attorney General - our state has no chance of making a comeback. Just ask the kids.