Jacques: For Gov. Snyder, schools and jobs are linked

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

Gov. Rick Snyder avoids talking about his legacy. But he clearly wants the work he has started to continue long after he leaves office.

Two of the things he’s most passionate about are jobs and schools. These are inextricably linked and essential for the future of Michigan’s workforce. Building the state’s talent pool isn’t just about strong employment numbers and a growing economy for the governor, however. It goes deeper than that.

Snyder talked to our editorial board last week, laying out why training the next generation is so important to him.

“It’s about how to get people connected not just to a job but to a career,” Snyder says. “I’ve had that mantra since I was running for office. If someone has a good career, the quality of their life is going to be so much better — the likelihood of them needing social services or having other problems in their life goes down dramatically. A job isn’t the answer to everything in life, but if you can get in on a great career path, that’s one of the greatest steps you can ever have happen.”

The governor breaks the work he’s done on schools into two broad categories. First, a focus on preparing the state’s youngest learners and investing more in their education, from help with early reading to expanding the state’s Great Start preschool program.

Second, prioritizing career and technical education and preparing more students for jobs in the skilled trades — in addition to ensuring those students who want to pursue a college degree are ready.

“We took care of younger kids to begin with, but then I thought it was important to sort of go to the other end of the spectrum where there was big opportunity for improvement,” Snyder says. “Which is basically to say how do we re-establish career tech education as an equal opportunity track in our state to go along with the university track?”

With one year left to complete this agenda, Snyder has plans to broaden career training. In his budget address in February, he says he’ll be offering some new ways the state can invest in this work, in addition to the partnership already forged between the state Department of Education and the Talent and Economic Development office. The Michigan Career Pathways Alliance was formed earlier this year, with a commitment to expand students’ exposure to different jobs.

Snyder is calling these efforts his “Marshall Plan” for talent and high-tech jobs.

“We’re seeing so many openings in these fields,” says Snyder. “Not only the professional trades but information technology, robotics, cybersecurity — things that don’t necessarily require a four-year degree. That’s going to be my big priority this next year.”

At least 100,000 jobs are unfilled right now in the state.

To complement this career-focused work, Snyder also wants to boost accountability. He’s pushing for an A-F school grading system, which would be a huge improvement over the bizarre color-coded system used now. And while he’s been frustrated with the lack of results from the state’s School Reform Office, Snyder appreciates the bigger role state Superintendent Brian Whiston is playing and has confidence struggling schools are getting more help.

Also, in the coming year, expect to hear Snyder promoting Michigan’s role as the “world’s leader” in mobility and other high-tech careers.

“That’s going to help set a great tone for Michigan for several generations to come,” Snyder says.