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Opinion: Funding Going PRO vital to auto industry present and future

February 24, 2020

Crain’s Detroit Business

By: Glenn Stevens

Ask anyone in business and they will tell you the same thing — our state needs workers with the skills to fill the thousands of job openings at companies of all sizes, in all industries. Bridging this talent gap is vital to Michigan’s economic future, given the projected workforce gap of more than 500,000 by 2026.

Ask any elected official and they will respond similarly, regardless of party. The question now is, how do we fill this need for the state’s signature automotive industry? The answer is by training potential employees with new technologies while advancing the skills required to fill open positions.

Start by continuing what works. The Going PRO in Michigan program is making strides to close the talent gap through training in classrooms and on the job, or via apprenticeship programs. Last year, funding through the program allowed 849 employers to train 5,909 new hires and 18,900 current employees. And 97 percent of the companies awarded had fewer than 500 employees and 70 percent had fewer than 100. We often read about the large companies that are vital to the automotive industry, but thousands of smaller firms make up the backbone of our economy.

While the Going PRO Talent Fund has helped further train thousands of workers so far, with each passing quarter, even more are losing out on the opportunity to adapt to industry advancements. And jobs that need to be filled are staying open while appropriations are being held up.

When you consider Going PRO’s success, number of applicants and return on investment, it clearly warrants a $50 million state appropriation to continue benefiting Michigan companies and workers. And with more than 1,200 applications for 2020 from employers, 43,000 workers stand to benefit from increased training and potential salary gains.

This is essential for where the automotive industry is headed. The “Detroit 3” continue to make major investments to protect Michigan’s automotive future. The FCA Mack Avenue Plant, General Motors’ Detroit-Hamtramck EV Plant and Ford Motor Co.’s commitment to the Michigan Central Station corridor are testaments to that. Suppliers are keeping pace as well. Paslin is expanding to support Rivian in a project expected to generate $45 million in private investment and create 200 new jobs. Going PRO supports these companies and their peers around our state.

Equally, we need Michigan to invest in the workforce to ensure thousands of employees have an opportunity to receive training to keep up with the changing industry landscape.
While the average hourly wage of a trainee is $16.95, the six-month post-training wage averages $26.60. This significant increase allows Michiganders to earn family-sustaining wages and employers to invest in their current workforce to meet talent demands.

State Sen. Ken Horn introduced a bill last month that would allocate $36.5 million to the Going PRO Talent Fund, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer added it back into her budget as a line item with $27.9 million in funding. There are options on the table, and we need our state policymakers to set aside partisan politics to fund the program and allow companies to get to work on retraining their workforce.

Economic growth is ultimately driven by a skilled, motivated and supported workforce. Let’s continue to invest in our people.

Glenn Stevens Jr. is the executive director of MICHauto and the vice president of Automotive and Mobility Initiatives for the Detroit Regional Chamber.

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