Students tour Grand Haven-based Shape Corp. during a manufacturing education day. Shape Corp. recently established a talent pipeline with Grand Haven Public Schools. Courtesy grand Haven Public School
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder approved the Marshall Plan for Talent last week, which will invest $100 million to be used over the next five years in an effort to improve the state’s talent pool.
The plan is meant to better prepare students for jobs in a 21st-century market, specifically those in computer science, manufacturing, health care and other professional trades and business.
The plan notes Michigan will have more than 811,000 career openings in these areas through 2024, with an average salary of over $60,000 per year and a total earnings potential of $49.1 billion, according to data from the state.
“This is how we really focus in on getting people connected to those great, well-paying careers that are clearly on the horizon,” Snyder said. “Right now, we’re not equipped, either in our education system or with our employers, to give them the training they need to fill all those openings.”
Jennifer Owens, president of the Zeeland-based economic development agency Lakeshore Advantage, said 49 percent of lakeshore businesses call lack of talent their main “barrier to growth.”
“If this barrier is not eliminated, the 75 percent of our employers who say they will expand in the next three years may look elsewhere for growth,” Owens said. “The Marshall Plan is a statewide call to action that will make a significant impact for our kids, our schools and our employers.”
There also are companies moving to or expanding in the area, such as the Portage-based medical device manufacturer Stryker, which announced two expansions in the past two years that will lead to 365 new jobs.
Tony Vermaas, vice president of the American Subcontractors Association of Michigan and president and CEO of Sobie Company, said the construction industry is experiencing a “workforce shortage due to rapidly increasing workloads and a boom of construction.”
“Any effort on Lansing’s part, like the Marshall Plan, to provide additional funding to … support career opportunities and advancement for those students interested in skilled trades positions are highly supported by ASAM, as a growth in our industry’s workforce will easily be supported by those companies that are looking for additional tradespeople,” Vermaas said.
Not just about trades
Overall, the plan is meant to educate students about career options, help them realize their goals and design the pathways to get them there, said Ron Koehler, assistant superintendent for organizational and community initiatives and legislative affairs at Kent ISD.
He said it’s not the goal of schools to track students to certain careers but simply educate them about all the career pathways available, whether that takes them to a trade school or to college.
“This is creating a better level of engagement among students so that they’re more excited about the process. They’ll all make choices related to their individual interests and needs,” Koehler said.
Koehler said many students have a difficult time staying motivated at school because they do not understand how their lessons apply to the real world, so many of them are just “marking time.”
“What we need to do for them is to better help them understand how these skills are used or how this knowledge is applied in the workplace,” he said. “Then that learning means … more to them, and so they’re excited to be a part of school and acquire those skills.”
He said many students are not aware of what happens in many high-demand jobs or have misconceptions about them, and they’re making decisions based on impressions of family members who worked in negative conditions and lost their jobs in the last recession.
Koehler said giving students opportunities like this can help them realize early what they do or not like, rather than having those realizations halfway through college and potentially wasting money.
There are fears from some education experts the plan will discourage students from pursuing college degrees, which could leave them unprepared for a shifting job market.
Lou Glazer, president of the Ann Arbor-based nonprofit think tank Michigan Future Inc., expressed these concerns in an Associated Press story published by the Business Journal.
Snyder said he does not see this as a concern for many of these fields, but even students who pursue those careers still are able to further education.
“I’m never going to discourage anyone from getting a university degree,” Snyder said, adding people can start with a well-paying job and the work toward a degree at whatever pace suits them.
He said exiting college with debt and no job would seem more discouraging than going straight into a computer programming job making $75,000 per year, for example.
Bill Pink, president of Grand Rapids Community College, said people are getting “hung up” on concerns like this.
“People think that it’s such an either-or. It can be both,” Pink said.
He said someone could start in an entry-level trade job and later choose to pursue the education required to become a manager or higher position. And many of those companies will pay for their employees to pursue that education, he said.
Nearly $30 million of the funds will go toward schools to fund courses and programs that better prepare students for the job market.
A big piece of this includes employability skills, like communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, content mastery and confidence, Koehler said, adding many of these skills are not taught because there is too much focus around testing.
The plan includes hiring 150 “career navigators” with $10.5 million and using $4 million to invest in career planning tools that will educate students about the types of jobs available and help them decide which careers to pursue.
About $18.5 million will go toward competitive grants to purchase equipment that can help train students in certain fields.
There will be $20 million in scholarships available for low-income students who wish to pursue degrees or credentials in high-demand fields. Pink said this piece will be GRCC’s priority to start.
Eligible schools must apply for resources before they are granted any funds.
The state is hosting open summer workshops for schools to learn more about the plan and how to apply. The Grand Rapids workshop is scheduled for Aug. 14.
Koehler said Kent ISD has had four career readiness conferences in the past year to discuss how to prepare students, and he has plans to continue those.
“And we hope that at some point during this process, we will have a successful application for Marshall Plan resources to help our districts go from discussion to implementation,” Koehler said.
The plan also includes collaboration and partnerships between organizations and businesses.
Pink said he looks forward to collaboration between the K-12 system, four-year colleges and businesses to help students realize their career goals and design education paths based on that.
One potential path for students is the tier-one automotive supplier Shape Corp., which has recently established a talent pipeline with Grand Haven Public Schools, said Julie Davidson, the company’s director of talent acquisition.
The company partnered with Muskegon Community College to offer a 13th-year dual enrollment program that would allow the students to graduate with associate’s degrees in areas such as electronics or mechanics. The following year, the students can choose to finish the program at Shape or pursue a four-year engineering degree.
While there are other educational priorities in the state, Snyder said the lack of talent needs to be addressed.
A study released by the School Finance Research Collaborative earlier this year found most average Michigan K-12 students are underfunded by nearly $2,000.
And Michigan’s third-grade students are the lowest performing in the country, according to The Education Trust-Midwest.
Snyder cited the 2014 educational increase of $150 million that, in part, benefitted preschool students and younger. He said programs to improve reading levels began a year-and-a-half ago, so effects have not really taken hold yet.
Snyder called the Marshall Plan a “capstone catalyst” that will combine with other successful plans, though focused on one particular issue.
Koehler said this extra funding — small compared to the annual $13-billion education budget, he added — is not enough to fix the problem but will identify best practices to better utilize funds already being used, and it may “make the case for more investment because it’s productive.”
Snyder said he expects local governments and other organizations to also provide resources toward fixing this issue.
He said he believes the “huge pilot program” will prove itself as the results come to light.
“Part of the idea to have the five-year term is I believe it will prove the principle that it is a great return on investment for not only the state government but for all educational institutions for our entire state and our employers,” Snyder said. “Everybody should win.”
If the plan is successful, he said he would encourage future state governments to continue investing.
“If it works as planned, absolutely,” Snyder said.