Editorial

Michigan's longstanding talent issue must be solved

August 11, 2017
TAGS eAgile / MEDC / Switch
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EAgile has ahold of the Radio Frequency Identification technology business, but whether it can continue its success from Michigan underscores the now most profound issue most affecting Michigan businesses, especially as Michigan is compared to other states and the availability of a creative workforce with STEM skills.

Recruitment issues surfaced two weeks ago in Wisconsin, as well, when Taiwan tech giant Foxconn indicated its interest in the state as the site of a massive high-tech manufacturing facility. (A deal not yet completed.) Wisconsin’s work force statistics and match to the company’s needs were the subject of high speculation as to its ability to fill the large number of required positions.

Switch Ltd., which has built out the “pyramid” property at a former Steelcase location in Gaines Township, is flying employees in and out of Grand Rapids from Las Vegas for lack of ability to find and recruit its skilled work force.

The Business Journal (again) notes when Michigan legislators might finally link the tremendous need for changes in the state education system to the high-tech, high-paying jobs moving out of the state. Consider this: The disinvestment in Michigan education is no savings; it is used instead by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. to provide training grants to employers hard-pressed to find the skill sets needed in 2017 — or beyond.

The MEDC approved a $300,000 Michigan Business Development Program performance-based grant, based on the support of The Right Place economic development agency’s assistance. The grant supports on-the-job training for the 50 workers eAgile needs to complete a $4.3-million investment and expansion (see the story at grbj.com). The Grand Rapids company had begun seeking sites in states where talent is most available (Texas, California, New Jersey, North Carolina and Washington).

This is not a new issue. Talent 2025 has been meeting, discussing and issuing reports about the “future” needs of West Michigan employers for almost a dozen years. In fact, a blog at the agency’s website late last week noted, “… a lack of the right education and skills were cited as the top barriers employers cited to successfully attract and retain talent. We’ve confirmed this several times now.” It further notes “a low labor force participation rate paired with the lowest regional unemployment rate in years” now exacerbates the issue.

The issue of good-paying, high-skill jobs staying in Michigan and sustained over the work life of employees must be addressed — now. Because it is already too late; Michigan is losing the national bid for talent.

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