How can Michigan’s economy boom if we don’t have the right workers?

17_AM_Cover_GraphicMichigan Economic Developers Association (MEDA) held their annual conference in Holland this month. Between attendees, sponsors, speakers and guests, nearly 200 members of the economic development community were in attendance.  A record breaking year for MEDA.  But from the opening reception to the closing remarks, I heard the same problem in every session I attended.  Businesses are struggling to hire people with the right skills.

On Wednesday evening, the president and a chief executive officer from competing businesses joined each other on stage to discuss the need to fill the pipeline with the qualified and dedicated talent.  Franco Bianchi of Haworth, Inc. and Brian Walker of Herman Miller, Inc. agreed on one thing, if we ignore the need for talent here in Michigan and throughout the United States, companies will have to outsource their work internationally in order to meet the demands of their growing business.

A common thread heard throughout the three-day conference was that businesses are willing to train and educate dedicated employees with a desire to learn. Many of these jobs are for highly skilled positions paying top wages, not the “factory” jobs our parents and grandparents held.   These jobs require creative thinking and problem solving.

Douglas Patton, executive vice president and engineering division chief technical officer for DENSSO International America, Inc. offered a presentation on the future of driverless society and discussed the immediate need for software developers and cybersecurity professionals.  These jobs do not require a bachelor’s degree to begin.  With an associate’s degree from a community college and an on-the-job training program, these individuals will be helping develop the future of driverless society while making comfortable wages. Individuals in these entry-level positions can advance within a company through lifelong learning opportunities. In many cases, employers are willing to help with these expenses.

Where does filling the pipeline begin?  It begins in elementary school. During the session on Building Tomorrows Talent Through Meaningful Engagement, topics were discussed on the need to show young students how their math, science, English, and technology all relate to the real world and to get kids excited about careers. For instance, a student struggling with math might make a better connection to the skills needed if they can apply math problems when developing code for a video game. .

It also begins at home. Every parent wants their child to be successful. However, a four-year college degree is not the right fit for every individual.   The average cost to complete a bachelor’s degree in Michigan is more than $50,000.  An associate’s degree, earned at a community college, can be earned for a fraction of the cost and lead to a rewarding career or additional educational opportunities.

Instead of suggesting that a four-year degree is the only way to be successful, perhaps we should be helping the next generation of our workforce discover their talents and aptitude and make a plan to follow an educational pathway that leads to career success.  For more information on these high skilled, high wage jobs in Michigan check out Going Pro, Michigan’s campaign designed to elevate the perception of professional trades and to showcase opportunities in a variety of rewarding careers.

Lauri Cowhy is a senior communications specialist for the Macomb County Department of Planning & Economic Development.

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