Economic Development, Higher Education, and Human Resources

Talent 2025 report pegs strengths, weaknesses

CEO-led effort puts comprehensive focus on labor market.

December 12, 2014
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An extensive labor market analysis showcases the region’s strengths and the need to bridge potential gaps among education, training and industry demands.

Talent 2025, a collective CEO-led effort to raise the standards of talent development throughout West Michigan, released a comprehensive report this month evaluating the current and future needs of employers with a goal to align the region’s education and workforce development efforts.

“West Michigan Talent Assessment and Outlook: Supply and Demand Analysis and Insights” includes data and forecasts for the 13 counties comprising West Michigan to help education and workforce development leaders identify potential training, knowledge and skill gaps between an adept and ready talent pipeline and the industries in demand.

Kevin Stotts, president of Talent 2025, said the comprehensive report examines the talent needs of the region’s six major occupation sectors and worked closely with leaders in education, workforce development, economic development and state entities to publish the report.

The report includes information and analysis for a range of topics related to developing a vibrant and adept workforce pipeline, including population and demographics, commuting and migration patterns, labor force and employment trends, distribution of current industry occupations, job outlooks, real-time demand measurement and forecasts of in-demand skills.

One of the key findings highlighted the strength of five industries; 60 percent of total payroll jobs in the region fall within manufacturing, health care and social assistance, retail trade, waste management and remediation services, and hospital and food services. As of 2013, manufacturing comprised 21.6 percent of total jobs, followed by health care and social assistance with 13.6 percent.

West Michigan’s total occupational job growth through 2020 is anticipated to be 10.1 percent, which is just behind the Detroit Metro region at 10.9 percent, and ahead of the overall projected state growth of 8.5 percent. The region is expected to account for one in six new jobs for the state, with at least 61,400 opportunities created in the region by 2020, according to the report.

Angie Barksdale, deputy director at Ottawa County Michigan Works, said one of the strengths of the region is the variety of occupations and skill sets in demand moving forward.

“We have the adaptability to be resilient over different things as you look at those occupations, everything from manufacturing to health care to construction and a variety of areas,” said Barksdale.

The report also noted specific occupations anticipated to experience growth through 2020. Health care support is expected to experience the fastest growth at 24 percent and 432 annual openings, while architecture and engineering is expected to increase by 13 percent with an annual growth of 115 jobs.

Office and administrative support is forecast to have the highest number of openings from 2010 to 2020 with 27,160 positions, but 72 percent of those are due to replacements. Construction and extraction is anticipated to have 12,790 openings during the same decade, while health care practitioners and technical positions are expected to have 12,260 openings. The number of high-demand, high-wage occupations in each of the six different industries was surprising, Stotts said, and led to a need to document the knowledge skills employers are seeking.

“It’s going beyond just the occupation. What are those sets of knowledge skills employers were really in need of across all occupations?” said Stotts. “That actually created a whole new dialogue among our partners. It created interest about the education workforce partners to really document that.”

The top skills forecast for jobs through 2020 included active listening, speaking, critical thinking, reading comprehension, and social perceptiveness. Critical knowledge-based skills were also highlighted, including customer and personal service, English language, administration and management, mathematics, and education and training.

Developing soft skills for the current and future workforce, Barksdale said, is one of the challenges for the region.

“There is a heavy emphasis on most jobs, most employers, to find people who have those critical thinking skills, those attitudes and adaptability. Those are not as easy to train,” said Barksdale. “So it is helping to convey that to job seekers, us as a system and educators — figuring out how to embed that into some of the hard-skills training we provide. If it is not a very high-technical job, many employers are very willing to train somebody in the technical things as long as the individual has what we would call soft skills.”

Although the report highlights the strengths of the region, and may even under-report current demands in sectors such as information technology and construction, Stotts said it is important to work with the education and workforce partners to help individuals transition into occupations that may require new skill sets.

“The purpose of Talent 2025 is to catalyze an integrated talent system, so the idea that supply and demand — the region’s talent development efforts are sort of in sync with business. We really try to work with partner agencies like those in the report to work at solutions that increase alignment,” said Stotts. “We identified early on in our work having good actionable labor market information was really lacking. Some of the community colleges had it, some of the workforce development agencies had it, but certainly not all,” said Stotts. “Couldn’t it be much more powerful if we partnered and did something together and uniform? There was a lot of enthusiasm toward that.”

Identifying a similar effort in Southeast Michigan known as Workforce Intelligence Network, Stotts said the partners involved in the project modeled their efforts to a degree based on the other initiative and pulled in the state of Michigan as a key partner for the first report.

Backed by an equally comprehensive number of partners, the report included collaboration from organizations such as: Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget; Michigan Labor Market Information & Strategic Initiatives; Michigan’s Workforce Development Agency; Ottawa Area Intermediate School District; Central, West Central, Kent/Allegan, Ottawa and Muskegon/Oceana Michigan Works!; and The Right Place.

Other business and education stakeholders represented were Muskegon Community College, Ferris State University, Lake Shore Advantage, Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids Community College, Amway, Wolverine Coil Spring and Alliance for Health.

“We expect this to be the first of an annual report to really talk about what are the occupations and the demand in each of the six major industries across the region,” said Stotts. “It is a quantitative report. We are going to convene employers within those industry clusters to really add qualitative data to have an even better report in 2015.”

“West Michigan has been a leader for the state of Michigan as a region in terms of the economic recovery, job growth, and education and skill level. It really points out a lot of the strengths West Michigan has as a labor market, a lot of continued growth in terms of employment, which should lead to a greater reduction in unemployment across the region.”

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