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Editorial: Give Michigan workforce a boost

The Detroit News

Mackinac Island –

Did you know that an auto mechanic can make $80,000 a year? Not too shabby. Add welders to that, in addition to an array of other jobs in the agriculture, health care, information technology and manufacturing worlds.

That’s the message Gov. Rick Snyder continues to broadcast at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference, which ends today. He says talent development is his No. 1 priority, and it should be given the impact it has on the state’s economy.

And he’s harnessed the help of TV personality Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” fame to get the word out about jobs available in Michigan. Rowe and Snyder announced a new joint campaign at the conference to highlight in-demand careers through videos featuring Rowe.

The governor projects 6,700 skilled-trade job openings each year through 2022, so it’s essential to tackle this now. To address the shortage, Snyder created the The Talent Investment Agency in March — the agency that spearheaded this campaign.

Workforce development is one of the key focuses at the conference this week because a large skills gap remains a problem in Michigan. As Snyder told The Detroit News Wednesday, the number of jobs unfilled in the state now totals 93,000 — a low estimate. That’s despite the increased attention given in recent years to careers in the skilled trades.

“Industries and employers that rely on skilled-trade talent are facing a talent gap,” Snyder said in a statement. “This campaign strengthens our efforts to make Michigan a national leader in development the talent employers are looking for.”

Although Michigan’s unemployment has vastly improved in recent years, there are still many residents who are out of work. Michigan’s jobless rate now mirrors the national average, dropping to 5.4 percent last month — the first time in 15 years the state’s rate didn’t outpace the rest of the country.

While that’s progress, the state’s economy could strengthen even more if employers could find skilled workers to step into available jobs.

Many of the unfilled jobs are in the skilled trades, most of which don’t require a four-year degree. And they pay well.

The state has developed several programs to direct funding to successful training efforts. One such program is the Michigan New Jobs Training Program, which promotes job growth and provides skilled training through local community colleges. It’s a program that deserves expansion. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation oversees some similar job training programs.

Detroit has also developed programs to help connect unemployed residents with quality jobs, which remains a great need in the city.

William Jones Jr., chief executive officer of Focus: HOPE in Detroit, is working to offer more individuals these opportunities. The organization has trained about 12,000 people in its career training programs, including machining, information technology and engineering. And Focus: HOPE has at least 125 people in its programs at any given time.

Jones says there is “tremendous potential” in Detroit, and he’s working to tap that potential through training residents and getting them ready to participate in the economy.

The Detroit Economic Growth Corporation is also working to make sure the city has a talented and attractive workforce for potential businesses. Malinda Jensen, vice president of business development for the DEGC, says there are 300 workforce development providers in the city, addressing a range of needs, including reading assistance. The DEGC works closely with Mayor Mike Duggan on workforce development.

Jensen also says some of the largest Detroit employers are starting to turn to internal training once they find the right employee, and that many of these employers are committed to hiring city residents.

Snyder has made workforce development a priority the last four years. And he’s right to keep working to close the skills gap.

#MPC15: Go to to find all of The Detroit News’ coverage of the Mackinac Policy Conference.