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Education Advocates: Reform, More Training Opportunities Needed to Sustain Detroit’s Momentum

Research shows that education is a driving force to foster a vibrant and strong economy. Detroit is no exception. That was a key message education advocates and leaders expressed during a panel discussion moderated by Greg Handel, vice president of education and talent at the Detroit Regional Chamber during the Investor Briefing: Attracting and Retaining Talent in Southeast Michigan in February.

“For the first time in forever, Detroit has a global macro trend working in its favor,” said Ned Staebler, vice president of economic development at Wayne State University and president and CEO of TechTown.

“Studies show people are moving to the urban centers across the world faster than ever before,” Staebler added.

With that trend showing no signs of slowing, one area of concern echoed by the panelists is the lack of accessible quality education, specifically among K-12 schools in Southeast Michigan.

“We have a lot going for us now in Detroit but it won’t mean anything if we don’t do something about our regional education system,” said Richard Rassel, Detroit Drives Degrees Leadership Council co-chair and Butzel Long chairman. “Our standards (for education) have slipped and we really need to get back to where we were.”

Education reform has been a longtime priority for the Chamber. Through its top-rated advocacy work at the local and state level to its management and collaboration on the Detroit Promise, the Chamber is committed to providing quality education to all students, regardless of income level.

Addressing diversification beyond traditional college tracks for students, attendees voiced the need for alternative options such as more vocational training and career programs.

“We have had to re-engage with community colleges to build partnerships to create a pipeline,” said Mikel Slater, vice president of human resources for Comcast. “Eighty percent of our workforce is technical and the other portion is mostly sales, so everyone is not university bound.”

Comcast is not alone in its effort to promote technical and skill-based employment opportunities.

Detroit Sewn, Magna International, Shinola and UAW-Ford National Programs Center, among others, currently employ participants of Henry Ford College’s (HFC) Industrial Sewing, Multi-Skilled Manufacturing and Mechatronic dual enrollment programs. HFC’s programs train individuals for entry-level jobs within industrial sewing, mechanical and robot maintenance.

Rassel encouraged more businesses and colleges to work collaboratively to help address the region’s talent gap.

“The business community has a big piece in fixing education and we must be prepared to shoulder the burden,” he said.

Stay tuned to the Chamber’s website for information on the next Investor Briefing date and time.

For more information on Forward Detroit, contact Marnita Hamilton at mhamilton@detroitchamber.com or 313.596.0310. To view a full list of investors and past Investor Exclusive content, visit our Investor Resources page.