Whitmer, Duggan unveil campaign to boost interest in skilled trades

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer talks with Wayne County Community College students Kevin Yi and Aaron Hensley about the 'Going Pro' campaign highlighting occupations and industries with job opportunities  at Wayne County Community College in Detroit, Michigan on July 8, 2019. Mayor Mike Duggan is in the background, right.

Detroit — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer joined Monday with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan to announce a new campaign aimed at helping Michigan employers fill an estimated 545,000 skilled-labor jobs opening up through 2026.

The public-private partnership, Going PRO in Michigan, is spearheaded by the Talent and Economic Development Department of Michigan, an office focused on professional skilled trade occupations and industries, officials said.

The effort, unveiled at a news conference at the Wayne County Community College's northwest campus, will seek to dispel stigma surrounding the trades and highlight career options including welders, millwrights and electrical line workers, anesthesia and surgical technologists, web developers and industrial mechanics.  

It's time for the state to "get serious" about closing the skills gap if it wants to be a home for opportunity for working people and businesses, Whitmer said.

"For a long time we did ourselves a disservice by talking about four-year degrees as the only path to prosperity, unwittingly devaluing others," Whitmer said Monday after a news conference in the school's Health Science Center. "Now, it's on us to make sure that we undo the damage that was done through that mentality. It's important to recognize that there is dignity and prosperity in a variety of lines of work in this state and that there is opportunity for everyone who seeks it out."

Whitmer, who set a goal of increasing the number of post-secondary degrees or certificates to 60% by 2030, noted that the vast majority of careers in Michigan require education beyond high school, "but only 45% of Michiganders have this additional education." 

The initiative will work to direct students and families to going-pro.com, to learn about career pathways, salary and job growth projections for the trades careers as well as training and educational opportunities.

Organizers expect that more than 90% of Michigan residents between ages 15 and 64 will be reached by the campaign through social media, advertising, public forums and other platforms. 

Duggan has boosted the city's investment in workforce training his second mayoral term. On Monday, he noted "more than 500 vacancies" just in Detroit hospitals. 

"Most of them do not need a four-year degree. They do need some level of skill," he said. "Once you get in at that first level of certificate, there's no limit to what you can do."

The Going PRO campaign announcement comes after plans were detailed this spring for a $30 million facility on the city's west side to provide free skilled trades training for up to 1,500 students per year. The center is expected to break ground in early 2020.

Officials said about half of the state's high school students, young adults and parents lack knowledge about the value and benefits that apprenticeships offer in professional trades. Thirteen percent of high school students consider them a good career path, the release notes. 

“There is incredible demand for educating and training skilled workers throughout our state, especially in the metro Detroit region,” added Stephanie Beckhorn, the state's acting director of the talent and economic development office. “Together with our partners in the public and private sectors, we have a big job to do in helping employers fill this enormous talent pipeline in professional trades, mostly in the fields of construction, advanced manufacturing, healthcare, automotive and information technology.” 

The Detroit chamber is among eight regional chambers of commerce — along with Lansing, Traverse City, Flint, Saginaw County, Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti, Southwest Michigan and Grand Rapids — that support Going PRO.

The campaign is also supported by organized labor groups, including the Operating Engineers Local 324, IBEW Local 58 and the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, among others. 

"While fields like healthcare and information technology weren't historically considered a part of the professional trades, that's no longer the case," SEIU Heathcare Michigan President Andrea Acevedo said. "These are well-respected careers."

Research from the state's talent department, officials said, showed interest in professional trades varies by region, with 8% of individuals in southeast Michigan expressing interest in pursuing a training certificate.

Detroit Regional Chamber CEO Sandy Baruah said without sufficient workers with the skills employers need, businesses and regions like Detroit can’t stay competitive.

"Going PRO is a key element that we need to fix that gap," he said.