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Don’t let up on developing state’s workforce

Michigan is up against enormous challenges growing, attracting and retaining a sustainable workforce that supports the state’s current and future needs in an evolving automotive and technology economy.

Demand is growing for advanced manufacturing and higher-skills workers, and the big question is how to develop and attract them.

Michigan has made progress through public-private partnerships that have coordinated funding, streamlined efforts and helped identify overlooked pools of talent. And employers are helping lead the way, a critical feature of successful retention. But more work remains.

“We’ve been stagnant for a long time,” says Jayme Powell, executive director of the Detroit Regional Workforce Partnership. “Everyone has been in a crisis environment. That is why we are relentless about being business-led.”

Workforce development was a major focus of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference on Mackinac Island last week.

With employers’ needs identified and organized by sector, these partnerships are able to collaborate with education partners, collect and aggregate data more efficiently and leverage regionalism to bring what’s working to scale. Higher education institutions are providing a strong foundation coming out of the pandemic for talent growth and stronger collaboration with employers.

“The number one supplier is the education system,” said Ann Thompson, manager of workforce development for Ford, at the conference. “They’re supplying your people.”

The University of Michigan and the Detroit Regional Chamber announced last week they are teaming up to create an “innovation corridor” from Ann Arbor to Detroit to attract and retain entrepreneurs, technology professionals and startups in Michigan.

Universities are also exposing students to companies and partners earlier on for better career insight and entry to the workforce.

Michigan is also one of the largest generators of talent in STEM and health care — a burgeoning field throughout the state.

But there is still a leaky talent pipeline. In 2023, for every 100 students only 35 earned a postsecondary credential within 10 years of starting high school.

The jobs of Michigan’s future no doubt require postsecondary education. Nowhere is that more evident than in the transitioning automotive industry, where a push toward electric vehicles and automation has upended the traditional workforce. There is growing need for more automation, vision systems, mechatronics and safety components.

Policymakers and Detroit’s auto companies are laser-focused on how to draw talent to the industry. Ford Motor Co. executive chair Bill Ford described the competition as a “war for talent.”

Michigan needs to win the fight.

Increasing skilled talent has been a bipartisan priority for Michigan’s last two administrations — and there is huge opportunity to upskill and reskill for the EV industry.

Companies should continue developing shorter-term training programs for entry-level employees, and help them earn other credentials that match their development with the state’s workforce needs.

Getting more people to live and work in Michigan also requires an atmosphere here that stimulates entrepreneurship and economic growth, a tax environment that gives people more determination over their futures and an education system that will teach kids how to read, write and add.

By continuing to look for talent that has not been fully accessed — women, minorities and immigrants — and by continuing to remove barriers to entry in the workforce, the state can build on a promising start.

— Detroit News

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