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Keeping Up with the Shifting Labor Market

Crain’s Content Studio

Filling the Skills Gap: An Open Dialogue on Workforce Realignment, hosted by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, examined obstacles to hiring skilled employees in a rapidly shifting labor market and steps employers and others can take to address skills needs.

On Thursday, May 30 at the 2019 Mackinac Policy Conference, the session included panelists Washtenaw Community College’s Michelle Mueller, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights’ Tom Lutz, DTE Energy’s David E. Meador, and National Skills Coalition’s Andy Van Kleunen. Detroit Public Television’s Stephen Henderson moderated the discussion.

Tuition isn’t the biggest problem in getting those skills, said Mueller. It’s lack of access to wrap-around services like transportation to and from school and work and childcare.

“Food insecurity is an incredible problem. We have a food pantry on our campus for the first time,” he said

Lutz said his company struggles to fill the jobs needed to complete projects. To overcome those challenges, it works with employers, Michigan Works! Association, and community partners to help applicants gain the skills necessary to get apprenticeships.

“We can bring tutoring right to them and give them times and opportunities to retake tests, (if necessary),” he said. The organization even has apprenticeships for high schoolers through its job fairs and summer programming. And to retain employees, it offers mentorship at journeymen and apprenticeship job levels.

Meador said Michigan has some 100,000 people it needs to put to work and 400 agencies trying to change the system to make that a possibility. For instance, DTE has 300 tree trimming jobs available. To fill those roles, it is starting a tree-trimming school in Detroit and another at a state prison to give people more opportunities and skills and put DTE on a greater path toward diversity.

Key Takeaways:

  • Fewer students are enrolling in high school, said Mueller. Programs need to deliver competency-based, contextualized developmental education that meets students where they are, allows them to move through curriculums as quickly or as slowly as they need and provides hands-on experiences.
  • Silos in funding need to be broken and then combined to concurrently provide more educational opportunities, job training, and basic needs.
  • Academia at all levels needs to rapidly respond to changing reading and math skills levels needed and improve foundational digital literacy skills.
  • Businesses must partner with schools and communities and discuss common skill standards and expectations; public dollars should then be directed toward those specific needs.
  • Companies need to understand that disabled individuals, such as those who are blind or on the autism spectrum, may be a great source of talent.

This article was written by Crain’s Content Studio for the 2019 Mackinac Policy Conference.