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What a difference a few years makes. In some respects, The Great Recession feels like distant history.

This is evident every time we hear stories from businesses about how they now have more job openings than qualified applicants. In many fields, there is no end in sight for this shortage of workers with the right skills.

Across southeast Michigan, we hear this from employers who are counting on schools to help train not just their future workforces, but the skilled employees they hope to hire right away. It is clear the most important fuel needed in industry today is talent.

According to the Michigan Department of Talent and Economic Development, the state will see more than 800,000 job openings through 2024. Without filling those openings, the state projects $49 billion in lost earning opportunity for our citizens.

Companies are in need of professional and technical talent that requires a bachelor's degree or higher, but they are also in need of high-tech talent, like “CAD”-literate designers, managers who know how to work on construction sites, robotics mechatronics professionals, trained culinary workers, dental hygienists, auto service technicians, and welders, where demand far exceeds supply.

Opportunities for high school graduates to earn a comfortable living without a four-year college degree exist in virtually every corner of the job market.

Policymakers and political hopefuls may promise on the campaign trail they are committed to finding solutions to filling the gap between workforce talent and the jobs that are open across the region and state. We look forward to talking to more candidates and elected officials about what a growing number of businesses in Metro Detroit already know: community college students leave their education ready to work, trained in critical fields.

Community colleges are affordable, nimble, flexible and accessible, offering high-quality and marketable degrees and certificates. Many students complete programs in two years or less. More than 1 million students have passed through our doors, in Oakland County alone, many going on to pursue four-year degrees, but many heading straight into careers.

Whether a student is looking to obtain a certificate, associate's degree, or transfer to a university, community colleges can be a first choice for education and the pathway to a career. But we need help from businesses, families and others interested in solving one of our state’s most pressing challenges.

John McCulloch is chair of the Board of Trustees and Peter Provenzano is chancellor of Oakland Community College.

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