Closing skills gap involves a group effort

When it comes to closing a skills gap in the available workforce — a growing problem in recent years — there is no instant solution, but local officials are making the necessary investments and signs point to a shift that will help meet the demand into the future.

But even as programs to train people in the necessary skills that will meet the market’s needs start sending qualified workers into northwest Michigan communities, concerns persist with the lack of workforce housing in many areas. That, combined with the comparatively low wages that are earned in the region, equal an often over-burdening cost of living that remains a problem.

Some employers are starting to respond to these challenges with flexible scheduling, on-site child care options and stipends for certain types of hardships.

With housing options limited in some areas, workers may be forced to live farther distances away from their jobs — where prices are more affordable. But therein lies the problem. Public transit options are limited, or nonexistent, making it difficult to save money on transportation.

As business owners and economic leaders work to help northwest Michigan grow, we applaud those who have adopted the unconventional and encourage others to do the same. Relatively small investments in employees can often make the difference. Employers need their shifts covered, of course, but if they extend themselves, workers are likely to be happier, more flexible themselves and more loyal to the business for which they work.

At the same time, our civic officials need to seek ways they can work with their neighbors and counterparts to connect the existing transit and other public support services they have. Nobody expects an urban public transit system to be operating in rural Emmet and Charlevoix counties. However, it’s our hope that leaders can identify a level of service somewhere in between that would provide reliable public transportation between, say, Charlevoix and Petoskey around the work day.

Many agree the region would be best served to diversify its industry because tourism is so seasonal and pay fluctuates. Manufacturers are growing in the area, but continue to have difficulty filling positions. It’s not quite an if-you-build-it-they-will-come scenario, but with the feasible housing options limited and high costs associated with commuting from farther away, it’s hard to expect significant progress without change.

— Petoskey News-Review

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