Guest Column

The talent driver in economic development

September 9, 2012
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When you ask most people what springs to mind first when thinking about economic development, they may say ¡§financial incentives to make the project work.¡¨ Sure, making certain that a project is economically feasible is a huge component of the decision-making process when undertaking a new venture, a plant expansion or simply increasing output or productivity to meet customer demands.

But what value is there to a project if, upon completion, you simply cannot find enough qualified employees to meet your needs at your location? There exists a fundamental misalignment between the existing talent pool and the new employment reality. This is the crux of the ¡§talent crisis¡¨ facing Michigan, which business and governmental leaders are working to resolve.

Many reasons are cited for the mismatch between existing worker skills and those required for jobs in our changing economy. A large number of highly skilled workers migrated to other parts of the country and world over the past two decades as the job market changed and entry-level wages eroded. College graduates have forsaken Michigan for well-paying jobs elsewhere.

Additionally, our educational system, based upon the agrarian cycle and chronically underfunded, is not able to ensure that each student succeeds. Manufacturing, a staple of Michigan¡¦s economy, is no longer viewed by many as a desirable career path.

The issue facing many new and growing companies in Michigan is no longer identifying how many people they need to run the business, placing an ad in the newspaper and choosing between hundreds of job seekers to fill the positions. Rather, it is a matter of ensuring enough of the right type of worker is available, regardless of whether a business is hiring engineers for a new high-tech facility or employees to meet seasonal needs.

Averting the looming crisis

The successful approach to developing and maintaining an appropriate talent mix in Michigan, and bringing the skills in alignment with the available jobs, will require a multi-faceted strategy. While not an exhaustive list, the following items are essential components to develop a world-class work force and averting the looming talent crisis:

  • Focus on the fundamental building block of a solid K-12 educational system. Establishing this as priority number one will ensure that future workers, the bedrock of our economy, have the basic reading, math and science skills required to enter the work force and adapt to the ever-changing global economy.

  • Give employers access to tools that will allow them to identify both short-term and long-term talent needs, maintain and sharpen the skills of their incumbent work force and, when the time is right, move quickly to hire additional qualified employees in real time, according to real needs.

  • Ensure that worker-training programs are properly funded and are based on the best practices in the industry. The current funding of Michigan¡¦s New Jobs Training Program, which allows income taxes to be captured to pay for new worker training, is an issue due to the state¡¦s interpretation of how much funding is currently available.

  • Identify and quickly adapt to new challenges and new opportunities, anticipating changes before they present themselves.ƒxƒxContinue to polish the Michigan ¡§brand¡¨ to ensure that we are retaining and attracting highly skilled workers, particularly the younger generation.

If we are to maintain a high level of innovation and success in Michigan, we need to act quickly to identify solutions to the talent crisis. It will not be easy, but we have proven before that we are up to the task of creating the talent to drive economic development in Michigan.

Kurt M. Brauer is a partner at Warner Norcross & Judd LLP. He concentrates his practice in economic development and environmental law. He can be reached at kbrauer@wnj.com

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