Detroit —John McGow has earned a solid income as a sheet metal worker — and he knows many Detroiters could have a similar life if they were trained in a skilled trade.
But connecting Detroiters to skilled trade programs is one of the most pressing concerns for workers as the city’s renaissance unfolds, McGow said Monday after marching in the annual Labor Day parade.
“There’s so much work out there and there are a lot of people looking for work, but they have to connect the two,” McGow said. “People are willing to work, they’ve just got to get them to training.”
McGow pointed to the difficulties Little Caesar’s Arena has had in employing at least 51 percent of Detroiters to the construction site, because of a lack of workers in the skilled trades. Dozens of contractors were fined $2.9 million, and that fine is expected to increase when construction on the sports and entertainment complex is completed this month.
“I just don’t think they are reaching out enough to the populace. If they don’t have computers or are tech-savvy enough, it’s hard to find these jobs,” McGow said. “There is so much work available. I just don’t think people know where to go or how to find the work.”
In a cherished tradition of organized labor in its birthplace, scores of union workers marched in downtown Detroit to mark Labor Day.
Many political leaders joined workers, reflecting on Detroit’s challenges on the horizon. Among them was Teamsters President James Hoffa, who said much progress has been made on the jobs front.
“We are going to need much more than that,” Hoffa said. “It’s going to take a lot of money and a lot of work.”
Mayor Mike Duggan, who is running for re-election, also joined the parade. He said he was celebrating everything organized labor has done to make Detroit what it is today and reflecting on what needs to be done in the future.
Duggan said the city needs to bring more manufacturing jobs back to Detroit, and he touted Flex-N-Gate, the largest supplier plant Detroit has landed in 20 years.
Duggan said there are 20,000 more Detroiters working now than four years ago, but that’s not enough.
“We need to get young men and women of Detroit into the skilled trade apprenticeship programs,” he said. “There are thousands of construction jobs that will be available in the next few years.”
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell said the narrative around educating Detroiters needs to be expanded to include skilled trades.
“We need to lose this snobbery that (education) has to be a college degree,” the Dearborn democrat said. “We just need to be sure we are giving everybody an opportunity to succeed in life.”
Labor Day comes as the national unemployment rate rose slightly in August to 4.4 percent and 1.2 million jobs were added to the economy since January, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report.
In the Detroit area, unemployment is at 4.4 percent.
It is also the first Labor Day under the leadership of President Donald Trump.
U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow said she would like to see Trump’s administration fulfill promises it made to American workers on the campaign trail that she has championed for years, such as renegotiating NAFTA to make it better for workers.
“But so far I have not seen the evidence they are actually going to fulfill their promise,” Stabenow said.