Editorial: Programs should close Michigan's skills gap

The Detroit News

Between the Great Recession and the Brain Drain during Michigan's lost decade, the state's workforce saw both valued skills and job opportunities erode.

And while state unemployment is down this past year, at 6.3 percent it's still above the national average.

Attracting and retaining talent in Michigan is critical for economic growth, and to ensure it competes fully in a global 21st century marketplace.

Boosting and diversifying the workforce is rightly a priority for Gov. Rick Snyder, educators and the business community.

Without it, Michigan's economic recovery will be tepid as businesses are forced to relocate or look outside the state to fill openings.

The problem is a skills gap between the types of careers pursued by tens of thousands of students graduating from Michigan universities every year and the kinds of jobs abundantly available in the state — namely career tech, manufacturing, and other jobs in the skilled trades.

Michigan companies are left looking for more qualified employees. There are currently more than 90,000 jobs listed on the state's Talent Connect website.

Oakland County, for example, desperately needs truck drivers. The number of these jobs available jumped 55 percent from 2013 to 2014, and it's one of the county's top advertised jobs, according to Oakland Michigan County Works!

At the Governor's Education and Economic Summit in Detroit this week, young people were encouraged to find opportunity in the tool and die industry as well.

It's a good example of the uphill battle Michigan's traditional bread and butter industries face. Tool and die workers are aging, and it's a tough industry to sell to millennials.

Snyder's new Talent Investment Agency, housed in the newly created Department of Talent and Economic Development, should help align Michiganians with careers in need of employees.

And the $10 million boost to the state's Skilled Trades Training Fund in Snyder's 2016 budget, along with a $50 million grant for state community colleges to help close the talent gap, should make significant progress training workers.

The fund pays for training existing or potential workers.

In 2014, it trained 10,000 people, and the goal is to double that number with increased budgeting this year.

As important as it is to get Michiganians trained and into these jobs, it's equally important Michigan-based businesses take advantage of the programs in place. Many of the participating companies are foreign-owned.

For Detroit alone, boosting the native workforce and retaining talent are critical to increasing the city's population and long-term growth.

Fortunately, Mayor Mike Duggan has joined the governor in promising to increase access to skilled trades jobs.

These are big, systemic challenges that deserve local and state attention.

With more taxpayer dollars than ever going toward job training and recruitment, it's critical Michigan receives a good return on its investment.