Skilled trades would get 75% boost in Snyder budget

Lauren Abdel-Razzaq and Gary Heinlein
The Detroit News

Gov. Rick Snyder asked Michigan lawmakers Wednesday for a 75 percent increase in funding for skilled trades training and career technical education, arguing that these workers are needed to fuel the economic recovery for years to come.

The proposal includes doubling a $10 million trades program that partially covers businesses' training costs to $20 million. The Republican governor also wants to spend $17.8 million to expand an initiative that allows students to get a high school diploma and either an associate's degree, technical certification, college credits or apprenticeship start in five years.

The moves would add nearly $36 million for enhanced educational opportunities, college and career planning and skilled trades training. Combined with existing programs, the proposal would boost it to $83.2 million in the fiscal year starting in October.

"This a huge opportunity for the state of Michigan," Snyder said at a joint Senate-House appropriations briefing. "We need to be No. 1 in the skilled trades. We can lead in this."

For businesses that rely on skilled workers, the governor's announcement is good news.

"Most manufacturing companies are in the same boat as we are: The majority of employees are seasoned and are going to be retiring soon,"said Brad Rusthoven, human resources director at Franchino Mold and Engineering in Lansing. "All the progress we've made in the last two years will be for naught, because these guys will be gone. A lot of companies are investing again in equipment, but if you don't have any people to run the stuff or do the work, we're going to stop growing."

At the start of his second term, Snyder is addressing a skills gap he says leads to jobs going unfilled because of a lack of qualified candidates. There are at least 80,000 unfilled positions listed on a state-sponsored jobs website, according to his administration.

Michigan's unemployment rate was 6.3 percent in December, the lowest in 12 years. But the state's jobless rate was higher than the national average of 5.6 percent.

Stephanie Comai, who will head the governors new state Talent Investment Agency, said the goal is to double the number of workers trained to 20,000 in the next budget year. She said 10,000 skilled trades workers received training in 2014 and she doesn't yet have the figure for the current budget year.

The training is for new employees companies are hiring for existing openings, as well as higher-skill jobs which employers plan to train current workers. Comai said she doesn't yet have an estimate of the overall need in Michigan for this kind of a program.

Employers will apply for money to conduct the training through the Talent Investment Agency, which starts operating March 16 under an executive order Snyder issued earlier this year. The program is flexible enough to allow company executives to determine what meets their needs, so funding needs could range from just a few weeks of training to fill some jobs to several months for others, Comai said.

Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, said every state is trying to attract manufacturing jobs.

"Every single governor wants to figure out not just how to attract jobs to their borders, but they will put at the top of their list attracting manufacturing jobs to their borders," Timmons said last week after a speech at the Detroit Economic Club. "The reason for that is the multiplier factor: You create a manufacturing job and you create a bunch of other jobs in other sectors."

Timmons said it has to be a partnership between the state and existing manufacturers.

"The states and localities do have a role to play in this. They need to prioritize and focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, on skills training," he said. "From the manufacturers standpoint, we need to make sure we are communicating properly with our community colleges and other institutions of higher education on how to define and recalibrate their curriculum to meet the needs of not just today, but...what we're going to need in the next five, 10 years."

Lisa Canada, political and legislative director for the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, said as long as taxpayer dollars aren't being spent on training programs that already exist privately, the union group is on board.

"It seems to be building on what exists and creating some possible new structures," she said of Snyder's plan. "We're very happy about that. So far, so good."

Other initiatives Snyder included in his budget plan are adding community college courses to a statewide online course catalog to boost dual-enrollment opportunities for high school students ($600,000), improving career planning tools ($500,000) and increasing grants to help K-12 districts hire mentors and college advisers ($1 million). He also wants to use $100,000 to create a pilot program to raise awareness about career technical education and the ability to earn college credit before high school graduation.

"I want to pilot them and find the ones that work and ramp them up," Snyder said. "This is just the beginning of an ongoing commitment in this area."

Michelle Cordano, executive director of the Capital Area Manufacturing Council in Lansing, said it's important to educate young people about what manufacturing offers and create programs to supplement education if school districts don't have vocational training.

"Today everybody is told they have to go to college, they have to get a degree," Cordano said. "But I think it's important that we get the word out that you can support a family, you can make a living in manufacturing without that four-year degree."

Timmons said one of the best ways for the state to boost interest in these fields is to have them work together with manufacturers to open doors to students and give them a peek inside.

"That is the best way to capture the imagination of a young person today and get them inspired about a career in manufacturing," he said.

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Twitter: @laurenarazzaq