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Detroit Drives Degrees Provides Platform to Discuss Region’s Talent Pipeline

By Daniel Lai

The Detroit Regional Chamber held its Talent Outlook: Detroit Drives Degrees breakfast on Thursday, March 23 at the Detroit Athletic Club to discuss the region’s talent pipeline and report on the first year of the Chamber’s Detroit Drives Degrees (D3) initiative. At standing room only, nearly 200 attendees heard from leaders from the higher education, business, government, nonprofit and philanthropic sectors.

33304034420_f189956d27_oChamber President and CEO Sandy Baruah opened the event by giving a brief overview of the D3 program and making a challenge to the audience. “Sixty percent. That is the one number I want you all to remember today,” Baruah said. “As a region, to compete and succeed, we need at least 60 percent of the population to have a postsecondary credential.”

Baruah noted that of the 11.6 million new U.S. jobs created since the recession, 99 percent have gone to workers with some college education.

D3’s overarching goal is to lead the region in achieving 60 percent postsecondary degree attainment by 2025.

The breakfast featured a keynote address from David Dodson, president of MDC, a nonprofit that publishes research and develops programs focused on expanding opportunity, reducing poverty, and addressing structural inequity.

Drawing from his personal journey, Dodson shared how mobility outcomes can drastically change with a postsecondary credential. His philosophy centered around the belief that a person’s socioeconomic status early in life should not determine where they end up later and education makes all the difference.

He described the pathway to upward economic mobility through a three-step process. First, one must complete foundational education. Secondly, obtain a postsecondary credential. Lastly, enter and advance in the workplace. Educational experience, a support network, work exposure, work experience, professional development and a professional network are all building blocks that must be developed and cultivated to achieve success.

Dodson stressed that the biggest takeaway for the business community is to not only build pathways or launchpad institutions, like D3, but to help those in disadvantaged communities truly navigate and fully understand the path to achieving the American dream.

The breakfast also featured a panel that shared insight on how to strengthen the Detroit region’s homegrown talent pipeline. Dodson was joined by Amber Arellano, executive director of The Education Trust-Midwest; William Huffaker, global director of talent acquisition for General Motors Co.; and moderated by Brandy Johnson, executive director of the Michigan College Access Network.

The discussion centered on the concept that talent, not capital, is Detroit’s most important asset.

“Detroit children are at the bottom of student achievement,” Arellano said. “A Boston fourth-grade student, educationally, is three years ahead of that of a Detroit student. The schools can’t do it alone. We all need to become advocates, pushing for urgency, excellence and equity.”

“The talent pipeline picture really isn’t pretty,” Huffaker added. “At General Motors, we hire someone with a STEM background every 26 seconds. Our community has changed so much over the last five years than in the last 50 years. As a community, we need to not only consume talent, but produce talent.”

Huffaker also suggested the creation of a more robust mentor program. “Everyone knows that they should have a mentor, but not everyone knows how to use a mentor,” he said.

The morning also included the announcement of the winners of the “Race to the FAFSA Line” challenge, which encouraged students to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The challenge was a part of D3’s initiative to improve regional postsecondary outcomes.

Daniel Lai is a communications specialist and copywriter at the Detroit Regional Chamber.