Jacques: Where are the handymen in Detroit?

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

If you live in the city of Detroit, you may have already caught on that there is a dearth of fix-it guys (and gals).

There are just 58 licensed plumbers and 283 carpenters who live in the city of 700,000 residents. Reportedly you can count the number of electricians on two hands.

Those numbers have caught the attention of the city’s jobs team, which is turning its focus to training residents for these good-paying, skilled trades jobs available right now.

“The need is outpacing the actual supply,” says Jeff Donofrio, the director of Detroit workforce development, a position at City Hall. “We’ve got to create the pipeline.”

Mayor Mike Duggan spent much of his State of the City address last week highlighting the work that must be done to get more Detroiters into jobs.

“You can’t have a recovery that includes everyone if you don’t have jobs for everyone willing to work,” Duggan said.

It is the right priority, given unemployment remains high at 9.8 percent. It’s certainly an improvement over the 18 percent high from three years ago, but given the demand for skilled labor, it seems needless for so many to still be without work.

Duggan also announced a new web portal, Detroit at Work, that seeks to connect job seekers with employers. It’s a similar concept to the Michigan Talent Connect site that has had good results.

The city’s Workforce Development Board underwent a major makeover in late 2015, shaking up the leadership and getting dozens of city business leaders involved.

Now, there are more than 40 CEOs who are part of the board, says Cindy Pasky, CEO of Strategic Staffing Solutions and a co-chair of the workforce board. Like her, she says they have taken a keen interest in solving the employment challenges in Detroit. Pasky has personally committed to making this happen. She hired on 167 Detroiters just last year.

“It’s not only the right thing to do, but it is a good business decision,” Pasky says, adding that believing in someone’s potential leads to loyalty among employees.

But Detroit residents face unique challenges in their job hunt. Many job seekers aren’t prepared to enter training programs because they are coming in with a sixth or seventh grade education level. So the city is directing them to bridge programs that will get them ready for the additional training.

This also underscores the need for better schools. Duggan doesn’t support closing any Detroit public school at this time, even though 24 consistently land on the worst-performing list in the state. The mayor should use his pulpit to demand improvement.

One of the district’s vocational schools is undergoing a face-lift, including new equipment and more instructors, thanks to the workforce board, including Pasky and fellow co-chair David Meador, vice chairman and chief administrative officer of DTE Energy.

They hope to boost enrollment significantly this fall at Randolph Career and Technical Center. Interim superintendent Alycia Meriweather has also championed this cause, and it’s one that could help fill the jobs pipeline in Detroit.

“I’m pleased with the pace,” Pasky says. “But there is a lot of work left to do.”

Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques