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Michigan is leading the nation in manufacturing job growth. Let me say that again, Michigan is leading the nation in manufacturing job growth, having created over 170,000 jobs since June of 2009. The high level of growth in manufacturing in Michigan has helped drive Michigan’s unemployment rate down to the national average and even below it.

However, continued success breeds new challenges. Being at the helm of our state’s leading manufacturing advocacy organization, representing nearly 2,000 manufacturers, gives me a unique vantage point. The number one barrier to growth for manufacturers now is finding workers with the appropriate skill sets to run our modern manufacturing operations. They say, we could expand our business and hire more people, if we could find people with the right skills.

The talent challenge is a growing challenge. As baby boomers retire, they take their skills with them, leaving not only empty jobs, but a lack of skill. While there may be people looking for work, they don’t possess the skills necessary for the available jobs.

In addition, students in the K-12 system lack an awareness of the many career opportunities and pathways available today, largely because there just aren’t as many career tech programs in the high schools any more.

For years, our state has told students that a four-year degree was the only path to a good job. Today, we know that’s not the case. There are many pathways that lead to great opportunities, and we need to do a better job of building collaborative relationships between parents, students, teachers and employers to help reveal the many lucrative career pathways available to students.

We’re out to change perceptions and elevate all pathways to rewarding careers in Michigan, like those available today in our member companies. Modern advanced manufacturing does not resemble the outdated perceptions. Modern facilities require people with advanced skills to run their operations. So, how do we increase awareness and expose students in the K-12 system to these fulfilling and lucrative career opportunities?

State Reps. Kahle, Alexander, Allor,,Rendon, and Kosowski have introduced legislation that continues our work to address our growing talent gap and ensure teachers and schools have the tools needed to help students explore potential careers and pathways to the wide array of good jobs in Michigan. Key provisions of the legislation include:

Requiring the Michigan Department of Education to develop a model program for career exploration and job readiness to be incorporated in all grade levels.

Allowing teachers to use time spent engaging with local employers or tech centers to count toward professional teaching certificate renewal.

Providing local school boards with the ability to hire licensed professionals to teach in career-tech courses in their field of expertise to address the shortage of CTE instructors.

Offering parents the option to receive information from a proprietary school, community college or a professional trade employer through a student directory of contact information.

House Bills 5139, 5140, 5141, 5142 and 5145, and the Michigan Career Pathways Alliance initiatives provide common sense solutions. We urge lawmakers to swiftly pass these bills, so we can begin to build a talent pipeline and expose students early to the many career pathways to lucrative and fulfilling careers. The talent gap is a clear barrier to growth in Michigan and solution to these challenges will create opportunities for our next generation to prosper right here in Michigan.

Chuck Hadden is president and CEO of the Michigan Manufacturers Association.

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