Old Issues Still Worrying Employers

November 11, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — Michigan employers have been struggling with work-force issues for the past decade, and the results of a survey by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce show that little has changed over that time.

According to a recent study, “Workplace Trends: Competing for Jobs and Workers in the Global Economy,” the availability, quality and sustainability of workers in the state pose difficulties for Michigan firms of all sizes and in all industries.

The online survey was conducted in partnership with Grand Rapids Business Journal and Crain’s Detroit Business.

Worker attraction and retention efforts are impacted by such factors as the ability to provide competitive wages and quality-of-life issues such as employee access to affordable health care and good school systems.

At the same time, an increasingly global economy has exposed employers to intense and contradictory pressures to reduce costs while simultaneously raising productivity and product quality.

Employers rated Michigan’s education and training system as most important in meeting their work-force needs, with the quality of K-12 education as the most important factor, followed by post-high-school training and college programs.

Over 73 percent of Michigan employers responding to the survey rated state work-force development efforts such as Michigan Works! and those of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. as only “average.” In West Michigan, 77 percent rated those efforts so.

A solid majority of respondents said private sector organizations such as Kelly Services and Manpower do a better job of preparing workers than government does.

When comparing the global workplace, employers statewide picked Japan as having the best employees, with Canada a distant second, India an interesting third and Germany fourth.

Locally, West Michigan agreed with Japan as the top choice by a substantial margin, but placed Germany as the runner-up, followed by China and then Canada.

Locally, only 4.5 percent of respondents chose India, with only Mexico receiving fewer votes.

When rating Michigan high school graduates by competencies, respondents rated their ability to use and adapt technology highest at 3.2 out of 5, followed by teamwork at 2.8 out of 5.

Statewide, work ethic was the lowest rated at 2.4 out of 5; locally, organization and communication tied for the bottom rung with a 2.32.

West Michigan corporate officials rated the state’s high school grads with lower values than employers statewide for all of the skills surveyed.

Employers said roughly 50 percent of their employees leaving went to southern states, followed by 30 percent going to western states.

Statewide, employers cited competitive salaries, access to affordable health care and diversified job opportunities as important factors in attracting and retaining employees, while quality of life issues such as competitive cost of living and good school systems were also important.

Absent from the statewide responses for important factors for Michigan to attract and retain workers was the presence of developed urban areas.

That response, however, was the second most popular among West Michigan employers.

Locally, the least important factor was technology infrastructure, with a rank of only 1.6.

By a wide margin, employers statewide and locally expect health care to provide the highest job growth potential for the state’s work force, followed distantly by the information technology and professional services sectors.

The online survey was one of four distributed jointly through the Grand Rapids Business Journal, Crain’s Detroit Business and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce for use at the chamber’s 2004 Future Forum, held in Ann Arbor.

More than 45 percent of the 325 respondents were CIOs, CFOs or CEOs, most being from manufacturing and services.

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