Apprenticeships touted as one solution to Michigan’s talent crunch
Earn-and-learn training programs offer Michigan students path to debt-free education.
Michigan desperately needs more apprentices like Emily Eggart.
Eggart, 20, an Oscoda native who graduated from Macomb County’s Chippewa Valley High School, is worried about the burden of taking on college tuition debt.
Instead of applying to a four-year college, Eggart entered the Michigan Advanced Technician Training program (known as MAT2), the state’s innovative “earn and learn” apprenticeship track.
MAT2 provides access to cutting-edge careers in advanced manufacturing through a partnership with more than 50 Michigan companies. MAT2 is a public-private collaboration in which employers pay tuition for an apprentice’s associate degree and provide on-the-job training with pay. Students who receive their degree and complete the three-year program requirements successfully have a job upon graduation in a high-demand field. Michigan currently has nearly 200 MAT2 students.
Today, Eggart is enjoying her “dream come true” career at Williams International, the Pontiac-based aerospace manufacturer that develops, produces and supports advanced fanjet engines for business jet aircrafts.
“I’m really excited about my future,” Eggart said. “I want to work my way up the ladder at Williams. The bosses I’ve had are amazing and I want to follow in their footsteps. I live on my own, I drive a new car and I’m going to come out of this program with no debt. It’s everything a 20-year-old could ever want.”
Michigan’s talent crunch
Michigan is at a talent pipeline crossroads. Employers can’t fill jobs because of the lack of a sufficiently skilled workforce.
While CNBC recently declared Michigan a Top 10 State for Winning the War on Talent in its America’s Top States for Business study, leaders in business, education and government agree much more work remains to satisfy Michigan employers’ hiring needs and keep local economies moving forward.
Projections by the Michigan Department of Technology, Management & Budget’s Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives show that Michigan will experience a Professional Trades workforce gap of more than 811,000 openings through 2024 in several high-demand, high-wage careers in information technology and computer science, healthcare, manufacturing and other industries.
At the same time, appreciation of the rewards that can come from apprenticeships and Professional Trades is lagging in Michigan. At least half of Michigan’s high school students, young adults and parents lack knowledge about the value and benefits apprenticeships offer, with only 13% of high school students considering apprenticeships a good career path option, according to a new statewide survey commissioned by the Michigan Talent Investment Agency (TIA).
Key findings from TIA’s research show:
- At least 55% of parents say they are not knowledgeable about apprenticeship benefits.
- Only 21% of parents view an apprenticeship as a good option after high school for their child or children.
- Students ages 14-30 are significantly more knowledgeable about the options of community colleges and four-year universities than apprenticeships.
Students in West Michigan and Southeast Michigan are similar in their knowledge of the potential benefits of apprenticeships at 44%, while other regions of the state are highly variable, ranging from 56% in Greater Lansing/Jackson to only 35% in the Great Lakes Bay Region that includes Genesee, Bay, Saginaw and Midland counties as well as the Thumb Region covering Huron, Sanilac and Tuscola counties.
In response, state leaders have kicked off Michigan Apprenticeships Experience Sooner, a public education effort launched by the Talent and Economic Development Department of Michigan (Ted) to build awareness and knowledge of apprenticeship opportunities.
Changing the public’s mindset is critical to Michigan’s future success, business and government leaders agree.
“Some areas of Michigan have done a better job than others about getting the word out that there are options available beyond pursuing a four-year college degree,” said Capital Area Michigan Works! (CAMW) CEO Edythe Hatter-Williams, who worked for 13 years in vocational-education training with the Flint City School District before serving the past 21 years at CAMW.
“I’m a product of vocational education training, and back then vocational education had a negative connotation that we were the ‘slow’ kids. Many parents today still have that perception,” Hatter-Williams said.
“We have a lot of work to do to change that mindset, and it’s not going to happen overnight,” she added.
“You say apprenticeships to most people, and they think manufacturing,” Hatter-Williams said. “But apprenticeships now encompass so much more, such as information technology, healthcare, insurance and finance and Professional Trades including electricians, plumbers, carpenters and steelworkers.”
The goal of Experience Sooner is to expand Michigan apprenticeships by 15% annually through a multifaceted awareness campaign.
“It’s a lofty goal that we’re calling the moonshot mandate,” said Janene Erne, Advance Michigan Center for Apprenticeship Innovation apprenticeship administrator. “The rate at which workers are graduating from Michigan’s vocational educational programs simply cannot meet the ever-growing need of employers. We have to do a better job of communicating about apprenticeships and Professional Trades to students, parents and grandparents.”
One of the biggest barriers in terms of filling Michigan’s talent pipeline is the disconnects that exist between local K-12 school systems, postsecondary institutions and employers in terms of the skills students learn in school not matching up with the knowledge employers want in new hires, she noted.
“New partnerships that break down silos and build stronger connections developed through Experience Sooner will be more important than ever in hitting the mark of creating new apprenticeships,” Erne said.
Experience Sooner is aligned with Michigan’s Marshall Plan for Talent, a $100 million investment to help educators, employers and other stakeholders transform the state’s talent pipeline and strategically redesign the ways to invest, develop and attract talent.
In addition, Experience Sooner will help promote the Going PRO Apprenticeship Readiness Initiative, a new grant program that has already awarded over $1.8 million to 11 organizations — including Michigan Works!, community colleges, industry associations and nonprofits — to provide pre-apprenticeship training to nearly 400 job seekers.
Ted Director Roger Curtis recently announced the state’s creation of a new Talent Development Liaison Team that will focus on engaging with employers and educators and encouraging partnerships to address talent needs and identifying mid- and long-term strategies to address the skill gaps in key Michigan industries.
“Business and education partnerships are key components in connecting the dots between business needs and how we can best address the gap in the state’s talent pipeline,” Curtis said.
Key to the effort is recruiting apprenticeship student success stories, such as Williams International’s Eggart, who can share their experience with high school students. Eggart now serves as a volunteer MAT2 champion who helps explain to Michigan high school students they have viable, affordable and immediate career alternatives through apprenticeships that don’t require paying the entire cost of a four-year bachelor’s degree.
“My advice is to just go for it,” she said. “It might take a couple years to get into the (MAT2) program because it’s competitive. But it’s worth it. I’m going to continue my education at Oakland University or Ferris State University to get my bachelor’s degree in applied science.”
“Hopefully,” Eggart said, laughing, “I can take my boss’s job one day when he retires — that’s my goal.”
To learn more about MI Apprenticeship, please visit MIApprenticeship.org.