Opinion: Fixing Michigan’s talent crisis
It’s a growing problem, here in Michigan and across the entire U.S. Good, high-paying jobs are going unfilled simply because employers can’t find the skilled, educated talent they need.
According to the National Federation of Independent Businesses, about 45 percent of small businesses were unable to find qualified applicants to fill job openings last year. Other employers searching for long-term hires in nursing, computing and technology have long complained about the shortage of skilled talent.
Now policymakers have begun to take note. The White House recently issued an executive order creating the National Council for the American Worker. The Council is comprised of 10 cabinet level/Administration official members and a private sector board made up of 25 people which will advise the Council on workforce policy in the United States.
And here in Michigan, our governor has created a “Marshall Plan” for talent, aimed at boosting investment in a skilled, educated workforce.
These discussions and investments are both necessary and important. We are pleased to see the American worker take center stage when it comes to boosting investment — this approach can serve to impact millions of households and bolster our economy.
But after decades of service on the front lines of workforce development, those of us in the Michigan Works! Network know it takes more than dollars and dialogue to get the results our state and nation need. We must work to ensure existing tools, systems and supports are adequately interwoven into the solutions we develop tomorrow.
For some time, we have been working to provide solid strategies and information to our state and national leaders. We need them to be aware that when Michiganders are out of work, their first stop is at their local Michigan Works! organization. There, they are met with quality training, skill-building and programs that can support them in their next steps.
Why? Because we use a demand-driven focus that emphasizes employer needs. We are in constant dialogue with local businesses and economic development experts, watching individual labor markets and matching local demand with job seeker training and development. We’re not just meeting the talent needs of today, we’re working to develop the workers of tomorrow.
The creation of entirely new, possibly siloed approaches to workforce development will not reach workers where they are. It is absolutely essential that we gather, utilize and improve the tools already at our disposal to make sure each and every worker is capable of filling available jobs.
One such tool is the four-year-old Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Congress adopted this new statute—based in part on the successes we’ve achieved here in Michigan—to “help job seekers access employment, education, training, and support services to succeed in the labor market and to match employers with the skilled workers they need to compete in the global economy”. Federal dollars are directed to state and local communities through the Michigan Works! Network and its peers across the U.S. to connect labor supply with demand.
This new law is still in its infancy, but it’s already begun delivering very promising results. It does so, however, in the absence of adequate funding. Today, resources have been systematically decreased to less than 50 percent of what was going to states and local communities just a decade ago. In the President’s last two proposed budgets the administration has cut federal workforce funding by more than 60 percent and acted to eliminate several key programs.
These reductions have contributed to the skills gap here in Michigan and across the U.S.—and they must be reversed.
Here at Michigan Works!, we know we have a strong, central role to play in transforming workers’ careers and lives. We will continue to fight to bring necessary resources and tools to the job seekers and employers we serve.
Speaking on behalf of the state’s local workforce agencies, I can say we are extremely pleased to see talent development at the forefront of our state and national discussions. We hope this emphasis on individual worker needs—and on solving our ongoing talent crisis—will translate to adequate funding for programs that have the potential to get the results workers deserve and expect.
In the meantime, we will continue to meet the needs of the Michigan worker—one job at a time.
Luann Dunsford is CEO of the Michigan Works! Association.