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Letter: Michigan must win talent war

The Detroit News
Michigan is projected to face a professional trades workforce gap of over 545,000 job openings in the next six years, writes Gustafson.

We’re still in the war for talent. Our state and nation need to create and grow the next generation of talent to compete and win in the global economy. Michigan competes in the Midwest for talent.

Make no mistake, workforce development is economic development. At Kinexus Group, we work with thousands of employers throughout Michigan and they continue to say their top problem — the one that keeps them up at night and the most significant barrier to their growth — is talent.

Attracting, developing and retaining talent requires cutting-edge training and tools, which often are expensive and cost-prohibitive for some employers, especially mid-size and smaller ones. In fact, 97.5% of all businesses in Michigan have 100 employees or less, and eight in 10 new jobs are created by small businesses.

The Going Pro Talent Fund sponsored by the state of Michigan has been a tremendously successful initiative and development tool. Since its’ inception in 2014, nearly $100 million has been awarded to more than 3,000 businesses across the state, resulting in the training, growth and retention of 72,542 people. That allows our companies to compete and win. It also helps Michiganians obtain important credentials and skills required by in-demand jobs. And it contributes to building stronger communities. 

As the 2020 budget impasse continues, funding for Going Pro hangs in the balance, along with the fate of winning the war for talent. Now is not the time to disarm. Michigan is projected to face a professional trades workforce gap of over 545,000 job openings in the next six years. We do not have enough talent to fill those jobs, something the Talent Fund can help address. In fact, it already has a proven track record of reducing that gap. The Talent Fund, through upskilling and reskilling of the workforce with industry recognized credentials, certificates, and degrees through employer/market-responsive training, is a triple win for people, employers and communities. 

As we start a new decade, let’s send the message that Michigan will not retreat. We are the State that builds, creates, and will develop our most important resource — our people. Without funding, we will see a shrinking talent pool, a growing skills gap and economically weaker communities. The state estimates that thousands of companies and around 22,000 Michigan workers will be denied critical training funding, inhibiting potential company growth and workers’ salary gains, if the Talent Fund monies are not restored. 

The Going Pro Talent Fund is an excellent example of the private sector and public sector working together with educators and training providers to make a real difference. We believe Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Legislature can bring that same spirit of winning to the table and fully restore funding in the 2020 budget. Together, we can win the war for talent and build a brighter future for all Michiganians.

Todd Gustafson, president and CEO 

Kinexus Group

Benton Harbor