Opinion: Career training essential for high school grads

Michelle Steffes

“Michigan’s talent shortage is the single greatest threat to the state’s continued economic recovery,” Michigan’s Talent and Economic Development Department website states.

Let that sink in. We are all responsible for this “single greatest threat” and it’s something we can control by our decisions and actions.

While obtaining a four-year degree will continue to be an effective path for many students (and I’ll talk more later about new ways colleges and businesses can, and are, enhancing this option), it is no longer the “only” route leading to successful, well-paying careers. More than ever, Michigan has an increasing number of careers available in healthcare, manufacturing, technology, and other industries that offer attractive benefit packages and high wages ranging up to six figures.

The requirement of many of these positions include certifications, associate’s degrees, and other training options, rather than four-year degrees. The issue is that high school students, and most importantly their parents and school counselors, aren’t aware of these lucrative career opportunities that exist or understand all the post-secondary options to get them there.

Fortunately, House Bill 4181 will go into legislative effect in 2019, which is the first law to support school counselors continually expanding their knowledge base of careers, fields and career prep options that students and parents would have otherwise unlikely been privy to. Additionally, high schools have started discussing the Marshall Plan for Talent, which was just signed into law in June 2018. The plan invested $100 million to create, expand and support educators and businesses who form innovative programs for high-demand, high-wage careers.

In today’s work world, paid apprenticeships and similar models are becoming more and more prevalent. Employers are enthusiastic about hiring employees with skills (especially in industries/areas of critical need) who don’t have their degrees yet. In turn, colleges could potentially offer “degrees in chunks,” where students complete the first level of education that prepares them for a job, then in a few years return to college for the next level, in order to advance at work.

Steffes writes: "Community colleges have the capability to offer certificate programs that meet industry needs"

Stackable credentials are a new, and truer, version of lifelong learning. Additionally, community colleges have the capability to offer certificate programs that meet industry needs, and both community colleges and four-year institutions are beginning to create articulation agreements with K-12 partners for seamless career pathways.

Recently at the Michigan Association for College Admission Counseling’s (MACAC) Future of Work Conference, school counselors were able to learn further from companies like Denso and Stryker that are working with colleges and their current students along with recent grads to propel them forward into this evolving, future work world and economy.

For students who don’t fit the college “mold,” resources like MITradeSchool.com provide up-to-date lists of high demand and well-paid skilled trade careers in Michigan, along with lists of apprenticeship and training programs available for students to transition into directly from high school. These career opportunities range from construction and manufacturing to healthcare and technology.

The future of work in Michigan is an exciting thing – we’re just at the beginning!

Michelle Steffes is vice president and managing director, talent strategy of Kelly Services.