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Employing Disadvantaged Groups Begins by Bringing Schools, Community Leaders and Businesses to the Table

There is a strong disconnect between workforce training systems, educational systems, and business. How can organizations collaborate to fill positions and give chronically underemployed groups employment opportunities? This was the topic during W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s session, “The Future of Work in Michigan: Partnerships Pave the Way to Prosperity” at the Mackinac Policy Conference.

Panelists included Heidi Kaplan, senior community development analyst for the Federal Reserve Board of Governors; David Meador, vice chairman and chief administrative officer for DTE Energy; and Bill Pink, president of Grand Rapids Community College. La June Montgomery Tabron, president and CEO of W.K. Kellogg Foundation, moderated the panel.

Key Takeaways:

  • There are several key barriers to hiring chronically underemployed groups. Meador shared that 75 percent of ex-offenders have a challenging time getting a driver’s license after being released because of exorbitant fees.
  • Schools and local colleges should collaborate with social service organizations to reduce barriers like transportation, child care, lack of food and shelter to position disadvantaged individuals for employment.
  • Businesses need to alter hiring processes to accommodate a more diverse group of individuals, including providing additional education opportunities as a component of employment.
  • There are only so many entry-level jobs. Employers should consider how to move people up the pipeline after the initial hire. This process creates room at the bottom for more entry-level jobs.
  • Vocational skills training is a legitimate career path that is often discouraged or overlooked. More middle schoolers and high schoolers should be exposed to the skilled trades as a potential career path.
  • There are currently 10,000 unfilled skilled trades jobs in Michigan and this number is expected to grow within the next five years, according to the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

“It is time for all of us to act, and to act with intention,” Tabron said. “Everyone benefits from a stronger workforce and everyone is responsible for preparing individuals for the jobs of today – and tomorrow.”