The Talent Gap
June 07, 2013
As the state’s economy started to pick up, Governor Rick Snyder noticed more jobs being posted but an increasing number of those positions left unfilled because of a growing talent mismatch between employers and employees.
It’s a problem festering in communities across the Great Lakes State.
While Michigan’s unemployment rate is 8.5 percent, there are reports of 63,000 jobs open in IT, engineering, healthcare, manufacturing and other sectors.
“We could lower our unemployment rate 1.5 percent by filling those 63,000 open positions,” Snyder said.
With baby boomers starting to retire there will be an even bigger void with fewer young people prepared to step in.
Add in the brain drain of young talent, and need for more folks trained in manufacturing and what’s left is a major league talent disconnect that could threaten Michigan’s future.
The situation so concerning to Snyder that he organized a two day statewide economic summit in Detroit in March with employers, educators, political leaders, organizations, students and others to discuss ways to bridge today’s talent needs and tomorrow’s.
Just as the state put the world on wheels because of its technology might 100 years ago, Snyder believes the state can set a new marker when it comes to talent by turning its attention to the epidemic.
“Our talent is our state’s single biggest resource and asset, and a critical issue that the state must address,” said Snyder. “Helping align and match aptitudes and career passions with the current and evolving need of employers will ensure meaningful, fulfilling opportunities for Michiganders as well as drive our economic growth.”
Educators in high schools, trade schools, community colleges and universities across the state are also recalibrating their markers to “J” — for jobs.
Other leaders are zooming in on this issue like DTE CEO Gerard Anderson, Quicken Loans Founder Dan Gilbert, State Sen. Tom Casperson, Amway President Doug DeVos and others as they launch programs and initiatives to help ease the divide.
CBS 62 showcased some of those efforts in its latest “Eye On The Future” prime time TV special “Bridging Michigan’s Workforce Divide” that recently aired on the Metro Detroit station. (http://vimeopro.com/wwwjtvcw50/bridging-michigans-workforce-divide)
The CBS crew traveled to Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Lansing and Marquette to show what was taking place as business leaders, politicians and educators, in some cases competitors, work together.
Taking the reins on talent issues
Seeing a need for more skilled tradesman, DTE created a lineman training program with 13 apprentices enrolled at its Shelby Service Center in Macomb County.
These lineman will spend two years learning the nuances of the demanding job which are high paying six-figure positions.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg of the company’s needs.
“We are going to have heavy turnover at DTE over the next decade — up to 40% of our workforce retiring,” said DTE CEO Gerard Anderson. “We are working hard with community colleges to develop programs to ensure we have the skills as our people leave. We have reinvigorated our college internship programs to pull in professionals/engineers. We are also a regular recruiter now at University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.”
Cornerstone Schools teamed up with Grand Valley State University and Detroit Medical Center to open Cornerstone Charter Health High School on Detroit’s east side to train more young people for jobs in the fast growing medical arena. Not only doctors, but nurses, engineers and custodians are all types of jobs that will be needed in the future.
There were 70 students in the school’s inaugural class, with another 80 signed up to join them this fall.
Cornerstone School Chief Executive Officer Thomas Willis said the school will help more young people carve out brighter futures.
Detroit Chassis, which makes chassis for recreational vehicles, saw a big time uptick in its business and knew it needed more employees.
Wanting to help the community, the company turned to Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Community Ventures program and hired dozen of workers who were considered unemployable.
To date, Detroit Chassis has hired 54 at-risk employees from Community Ventures and other programs. The company has 150 employees.
Cliffs Natural Resources — like many companies across the state — is working with schools including Northern Michigan University to confront its worker needs.
Jim Kochevar took over Cliffs Natural Resources’ Michigan operations in 2008 knowing that the 166-year-old company –which operates two mines in the Upper Peninsula — needed to keep ahead of changes in the industry.
One of his biggest challenges proved keeping abreast of an aging workforce as 50 percent of his staff would leave by 2013 as boomers retired.
“That kind of transition is difficult, you loose a lot of experienced and hands-on knowledge,” Kochevar said.
But it also allowed the company to bring in younger people with a new perspective.
No doubt that scenario of boomers bailing out of the job market will play out elsewhere as a study by the Michigan Bureau of Labor Market and Strategic Initiatives showed nearly 800,000 people – or 20 percent of the state’s workforce – are nearing retirement age.
To fill their job needs, Cliffs Natural Resources became more aggressive about recruiting. And the firm turned to institutions like Northern Michigan University.
It’s a call NMU President David Haynes has been getting more often.
In response, Haynes launched his “Roads Scholar Bus Tour” which takes leaders of its engineering, technical and other schools to communities to meet with businesses and help them find the workers they need today and plan for tomorrow.
Haynes aims to to take his bus tour to Metro Detroit to, “connect the north and the south” of the sprawling state.
“We also want to work with companies to create jobs so more NMU graduates and others across the state will remain in Michigan,” he added.
State Senator Tom Casperson, who hails from the Upper Peninsula, thinks there needs to be a shift in Michigan’s Merit Curriculum to better focus students to the real world needs.
“Michigan’s Merit Curriculum, although well intended, is not meeting the needs of many students and employers throughout the state and Michigan needs to focus on ensuring kids are not simply college ready but that they are career ready,” Casperson said.
“We can make some slight adjustments to the MMC to ensure that students are career ready that do not jeopardize the rigors of the MMC that will better serve both our children and Michigan’s employers,” Casperson said adding he hoped leaders in Lansing would have an open mind to the idea.
Teaming up to fill the gap
Few would argue manufacturing has taken a hit as a career choice as hundreds of thousands of workers were right sized out of jobs.
This helps explain why there are reports of 700,000 manufacturing jobs open in the U.S. right now.
To keep ahead of the problem, Doug DeVos, president of Amway, teamed up with Jay Dunwell, president of Wolverine Coil Spring Co., and others at The Right Place’s Manufacturing Council to change the perception of the industry with young people.
That coalition launched a “Discover Manufacturing Today Video Challenge” for high school students with a competition to create a brief video on why manufacturing was cool.
Dozens of schools participated and the team from Caledonia High School won the top prize of $2,500. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpPOxM-B1wM)
One segment where the jobs are flush but those with matching skills are not – is information technology.
No where is that more pronounced than smack dab in the heart of Detroit where Quicken Loans is based.
Quicken Loans is confronting its worker needs through several programs including “IT in the D” which exposes people to the profession.
Quicken Loans also signed up to participate in MEDC’s Community Ventures program to hire structurally unemployed individuals and give them a chance.
“We need good people, and we are willing to look anywhere and everywhere for them,” said David Carroll, vice president of miscellaneous stuff at Quicken Loans.
At the moment, Quicken Loans has 200 IT jobs open in Detroit.
Seeing a need for more highly trained information technology workers 18 months ago, Quicken joined with fellow downtown IT businesses Compuware, GalaxE.Solutions, Marketing Associates and Fathead and launched “IT in the D” program. It is supported by the Workforce Intelligence Network.
GalaxE.Solutions, based in New Jersey, opened an office in Detroit because of the area’s technology might and strong DNA for innovation. They too saw the IT shortage and decided to get involved with “IT in the D,” said Ryan Hoyle, who heads up their recruiting.
“IT in the D” takes people and exposes them – about 25 people per class – to the IT field as they spend time with mentors from participating companies. Some enrolled in the program have been hired. When asked why Quicken Loans would hook up with companies all competing for limited IT employees, Carroll said, “we recognized we had a better chance to get qualified IT workers to choose Detroit over places like Silicon Valley by working together to show them what a great place this is.”