Residents bullish on job training, and want employers to carry load

Residents across Michigan look into the future and can see beyond the 423,000 jobs the state lost to the Great Recession. More than 70 percent see a Michigan where the job market will rise to “good or even “great” in the coming years.

At the same time, a majority of residents agree with Gov. Rick Snyder: Many Michigan workers are in desperate need of retraining to achieve a satisfactory career, while the state’s young people need more opportunities for real work experience.

The Center for Michigan (Bridge Magazine’s parent company) spoke to more than 5,000 residents this year through 149 in-person community conversations, two telephone polls, two online surveys of employers and educators and an online panel from December through May. The findings were released this week in a report, “Getting to Work: The public’s agenda for improving career navigation, college affordability, and upward mobility in Michigan.”

In it, Michiganders said they want more attention to strategies that improve residents’ jobs prospects and upward mobility. A large majority ‒ between 74 and 91 percent of respondents ‒ favor more hands-on job training and work experience for young people, and helping adult workers find suitable retraining programs that improve their economic fortunes.

Helping workers find better jobs is a priority leaders are paying attention to beyond the state’s borders. Last week, President Obama stopped by Macomb Community College to promote a grant program that would create 34,000 apprenticeships nationally. Three Michigan programs, including MCC, would receive $11 million. It was part of the president’s push to make two years of community college free for millions of Americans.

An employer’s burden

For years, some in the business community have complained that schools are not providing students with the skills they will need to succeed in the workforce.

But in this year’s “Getting to Work” Community Conversations, Michigan residents offered something of a twist to that criticism. More than 80 percent of respondents, including small business owners, said employers need to assume more responsibility for training workers.

Even with Michigan’s unemployment rate falling below 6 percent, business groups say that some 75,000 skilled jobs go unfilled due to a lack of talent and skills in the workforce.

Michigan residents say they see the skills gap ‒ the gulf between the skills job seekers possess and the skills they need - as a huge problem. More than 70 percent of respondents said most adults need help finding out what they need to do to get the job they want.

Janie McNabb, chief operating officer for Northwest Michigan Works!, a workforce development agency in Traverse City, said the public sentiment accurately reflects the dynamics of the state’s worker pool. “I think people recognize that apprenticeship-style learning is the most effective and best way to learn and to get to better career options.”

Train youth

Michigan residents clearly view hands-on job training as essential to improving career prospects for young people: 78 percent of residents in community conversations and 83 percent of telephone respondents favor expansion of paid summer youth internships. More than nine-in-10 people support apprenticeships as a tool to improve upward mobility for both young people and older adults.

Michigan residents, however, were splintered on biggest challenges facing new workers.

Roughly 1-in-5 community conversation respondents and those contacted by phone expressed concern about a lack of available jobs for high school, college or vocational students. Roughly 23 percent of community conversation respondents and 11 percent of telephone respondents saw a lack of communication between schools, colleges and employers about the skills needed to find work. The remainder said they worried about high numbers of youth who were neither in school or in a job, while others were concerned about graduates having difficulty finding work.

Gregory Pitoniak, CEO of the Southeast Michigan Community Alliance, which operates Michigan Works! offices in Monroe and Wayne counties (excluding Detroit), said he shared anxiety about schools and employers not being on the same page on job skills.

“It’s very real that school systems need to be more proactive about career opportunities in a much broader sense,” Pitoniak said. “In fact, some schools are disinvesting in skilled trades and the types of programs that will grow in demand in the future. We also need to convince parents who have outdated notions that (their students) need to get a bachelor’s degree only.”

Old workers, new tricks

Seventy-four percent of those who attended community conversations and 85 percent of telephone respondents agreed that retraining opportunities are needed for adults in changing industries. But here again, respondents were divided on what obstacles stood in the way. Asked what makes it hard for adults to find work, 27 percent of community conversation respondents and 18 percent of telephone respondents said “not having the skills need for the job I’m looking for.” A slightly bigger group ‒ 37 percent of community conversation respondents and 50 percent of telephone respondents ‒ said “not being able to find a job that pays a livable wage.”

Pitoniak lauded a training program in the state’s southeast region called Michigan Advanced Technical Training (MAT2), where workers can get a guaranteed job, employer-paid tuition towards an associate’s degree and on-the-job training. After two years, it is now expanding to community colleges in other regions of the state.

In July, Gov. Snyder signed a bill that extends another training option, the Michigan New Jobs Training Program, until 2023. It’s part of his push to increase the number of skilled workers capable of filling the state’s backlog of unfilled positions. The program began in 2010 to allow community colleges to partner with employers to fund job training programs for their workers. Essentially, the state allows the employers to use dollars that typically are paid to the state for withholding taxes to be used instead to train employees at community colleges.

Pitoniak, who also participated in a community conversation, said such programs meet the needs of employers as well as employees.

The price of investment

As always, money will be an issue for expanding or creating training programs such as MAT2 or No Worker Left Behind.

No Worker Left Behind, funded with federal money, including stimulus funds, paid up to $10,000 of college tuition for 165,000 laid-off, unemployed or low-income Michigan adults from 2007-2010. The program cost $500 million, and two-thirds of participants reported finding employment. It is an open question whether the state would be willing to make such an investment again.

Michigan residents say they want to see more on-the-job training, and a clear majority of respondents – 80 percent – also agreed that employers should be shouldering the burden of training workers for those unfilled jobs.

Colby Cesaro, research director at the Workforce Intelligence Network of Southeast Michigan, said job training can be expensive for employers. As a result, many employers would rather pay existing workers overtime than train new ones.

Cesaro said employers would be wise to invest in training and, in return, require workers to sign an agreement that they will remain with the company for a set timeframe or repay the employer, she said. That’s a win for both the employer and the worker.

Data shows that the residents who are most bullish on Michigan’s economic future tend to be those who are more successful. Less affluent residents were more pessimistic. More than half of those with an annual household income of $35,000 or less called the current Michigan job market terrible for themselves and their relatives.

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Thu, 09/17/2015 - 10:05am
Employers need to step up and formulate and implement training. Apprenticeship works well and has for centuries. The issue with community college programs is that they become obsolete as industry needs change. That is they can not get or fund new equipment as quickly as industry does. So in the relative short term both their equipment and training programs become obsolete. Fims in an industry will change technology to meet demand in must shorter time then an its depreciation schedule.
Thu, 09/17/2015 - 11:03am
"An employer’s burden" (oh boo hoo) That sums up the attitude of too many employers in Michigan, they want the govt. to give them all kinds of tax breaks and give nothing in return for training employees and expect schools to do everything for them.
Chuck Fellows
Thu, 09/17/2015 - 12:26pm
Go to and find an event near you - October 2, 2015. Michigan's Department of Education Career and Technical Education Department (,4615,7-140-6530_2629---,00.html) needs a reorientation of programs away from the singular emphasis on qualifications oriented toward a four year degree. Currently Perkins IV dollars are allocated to Community Colleges that have an entrance exam requirement that effectively excludes those most in need of career training. Fail the exam and the CC requires remedial education at great expense to the applicant. In addition leverage the resource called "your local library" which has been in the business of supporting job seekers and career training for decades - and they are located in every community in the state. Nationally through the US Department of Commerce (see above) there are significant efforts to provide funds for training, and also the Department of Labor ( which has ongoing programs across the nation.
Thu, 09/17/2015 - 11:05pm
What is interesting to me is that no one has mentioned any respsonibility of the potential employees. It seem that the employers, the State, and even the schools have responsiblities based on the surveys, but it appears that the individual has nothing to be responsible for, there are no expectations of them. There is an implied responibility to pay for training provided by the schools, post high school, but nothing else. If the employer does the training [makes the investment, takes the risk] and when completed and the employee leaves what recourse does the employer have? There is no mention of the student/employee having to show up as schedule, doing any studying on their own time, being able to learn in english (or is the employer require to train in the language of comfort for the employee), etc. Why shouldn't there be some expectations. responsibilties, performance criteria for the people that all this effort is designed to help get employed? Why is it always for the individual and nothing from the individual? What question on the survey asked about whether the individual should be held accountable, if they should provide a minimum value, if they should demonstrate a minimum work ethic?
Chuck Fellows
Fri, 09/18/2015 - 9:36am
Do not assume a lack of responsibility on the part of the job seeker. Businesses invest in their future when they invest in the workforce. Unfortunately we have a system of education focused upon the illusion that a four year degree is the only way to acquire gainful employment. That illusion has acted to disminish the value of work. When business leaders believe that non degree work has no value they drop their responsibility to invest wisely in the future of the business.
Fri, 09/18/2015 - 8:21pm
Chuck, I am not as confident as you, there are too many examples of individual responsibility not being a consideration. Whether it is minimum wage, education, or workplace regulations the individual responsibility is at best ignored or there is no individual expectation/responsiblity. The talk here is about the employers, the school, but nothing about the individual who is to benefit. How can people know their role if no one described it to them? Why would you expect people to know what they should do if they are not taught and expected to do it? [Why won't they hire me? Kalamazoo area manufacturers provide 10 reasons | ] The culture of business work and workers has changed so much that the idea of an employee simply waiting to be told what to do must be dispelled, foreman/supervisors/bosses that tell the employees what and how to work each day have disappeared. At best employers can afford to train the employee the job knowledge then they expect employees to apply that training. The better paying the job the less direction they are given. If the individual isn’t taught, told, and [when they are the beneficiary of a law] what the minimum practices they need to follow, results will be random. Think of the process for becoming a licensed driver, for such a simple task so much is required so why no at least that much for a life time of work when the training is paid for by others?
Fri, 09/18/2015 - 8:57am
Those are all good points but ultimately it doesn't matter because the current system just isn't working and the employer is just going to have to wing it on how much dedication the potential employee has for the job.