Guest Column

Michigan must win the bid for talent

August 18, 2017
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Over the years, Michigan — and especially Grand Rapids — has landed on some of the most prestigious “top lists” in publications around the nation. But there is one list we still need to make — the list of top places to find talent with in-demand skills. And it’s within reach.

Carole Valade’s recent editorial “Michigan’s long-standing talent issue must be solved” in the Grand Rapids Business Journal touches on a valid point: Michigan’s talent gap is our state’s biggest threat to sustained economic prosperity and there is more we can — and must — do to close it.

This, in fact, is not a new issue. We’ve been talking about this talent shortfall for a few years. We have to do more than talk. We need to act, and we are.

Today, Michigan has nearly 100,000 jobs available on the Pure Michigan Talent Connect website. That number will only grow over time as Michigan’s business climate continues to thrive.

Michigan needs the workforce to fill jobs in these expanding industries, and we can start by promoting all pathways that lead to good-paying and rewarding careers — including those in the professional trades.

At Gov. Rick Snyder's direction, The Michigan Department of Talent and Economic Development teamed up with the Michigan Department of Education and several business, labor, economic development and education leaders to help do just that — close the talent gap. Our teams, with the help and support of more than 300 individuals and organizations, are working steadfastly to create more opportunities for our young people to explore and prepare for careers of all types.

Over the summer, we’ve been working hard to make the case for our combined 17 initiatives, nine of which have been successfully signed into effect by Michigan Superintendent Brian Whiston.

Some of the initiatives include:

  • Implementing an extensive career exploration class before students begin to select their elective classes in high school.
  • Expanding career technical education programs statewide.
  • Establishing flexibility in the Michigan Merit Curriculum to provide an opportunity for schools to integrate Michigan Merit Curriculum requirements with career programs, like geometry and carpentry, and allow computer science as a foreign language.
  • Continuing our Going PRO campaign to change the perception of professional trades, especially among students and those who influence them.

In addition to creating various pathways to sustainable and enjoyable careers, we are starting the discussion on equitable funding for career tech programs. These are important programs to ensure Michigan is the No. 1 state for talent.

Some schools, like those in the Kent County Intermediate School District, have done a great job with these types of programs, which is why Gov. Snyder opted to sign this year’s budget bill — which included an increase in funding for CTE — at the Kent County Career Tech Center. School districts like Kent County ISD are our islands of excellence. We’d like to see more of these programs around the state.

When I came to TED, this was a top priority for not only myself but for Gov. Snyder and several other key leaders around the state. As I began to meet with stakeholders, it became clear: This priority is shared broadly and almost unanimously.

It is important to note that we all play a critical role in promoting all pathways to rewarding careers in Michigan — especially those in the professional trades.

There is much to be done, and we are only getting started. But these initiatives, if adopted, will ensure Michigan wins the bid for talent.

Learn more about the Michigan Career Pathways Alliance and get involved at bit.ly/MichTalent.

Roger Curtis is director of the Michigan Department of Talent and Economic Development.

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