Gov. Snyder talks talent development


Gov. Rick Snyder spoke recently with business leaders at a Grand Rapids Rotary Club event. Courtesy Bryce Huffman/Michigan Radio 

During a recent stop in Grand Rapids, Gov. Rick Snyder discussed elements of his recently announced “Marshall Plan,” aimed at preparing students to enter a technology-driven workforce.

Snyder spoke at the University Club in downtown Grand Rapids during the Rotary Club’s March 1 meeting.

His talk echoed themes in his State of the State address Jan. 23, including Michigan’s “comeback,” mobility and autonomous vehicle production, talent and education, infrastructure, fiscal responsibility and civility in the public sphere.

Snyder mentioned the Marshall Plan by name several times in his 15-minute speech and also returned to it during a question-and-answer period.

The Marshall Plan, announced Feb. 22, calls for investing $100 million in new funding dedicated to “innovative” programs, including competency-based certification, assistance for schools to improve curricula and classroom equipment, scholarships and stipends, and support for career navigators and teachers.

Its goal is to enable Michigan workers to lead the nation in filling the more than 800,000 job openings projected between now and 2024.

The state said the new funding will complement more than $225 million in funding already dedicated to talent development efforts in Michigan — including resources for career and technical education, middle college programs and equipment, and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs to get students interested about opportunities in those fields. 

He said a primary component will be making sure this generation of students is prepared to enter the workforce with skills for high-paying, high-demand jobs.

“The question in Michigan today is no longer, ‘Is there a job?’ but ‘How do you get the skills to be successful to take that well-paying job?’” he said.

“If I asked all the employers out there in this audience, your No. 1 issue is most likely, ‘How do I get more people who have the skills I need?’”

He described it as a “capstone catalyst” that expands upon programs already in place and integrates various efforts.

“Our whole system is transforming,” he said. “It’s going to be much more about public-private partnerships, rather than silos of (educators) vs. employers. It’s going to be much more about competency-based certificates.”

Snyder said he believes the plan will help Michigan “lead the nation” in solving the talent shortage — and it will start with helping students find practical applications for the concepts they are learning.

“Where can you go to find the kids smiling after geometry class? It’s not the geometry class you sit in and get lectured in. It’s the carpentry class. It’s the trade class,” he said.

“You can’t be a carpenter if you can’t learn geometry. You have to learn how to do a roof, you have to learn gables, you have to learn angles to build rooms. So how do you make it more applicable to their lives?”

Snyder said it’s the same with software programming.

“I went to a high school class recently and started asking them not about doing programming; I said, ‘What are you doing with it?’ I went to one and they were doing construction (and) engineering work with their software they were learning.

“Another, they were building a game. … A third was actually doing art. Isn’t that awesome? They were learning cutting-edge skills and applying it to an area that meant something to their life.”

Snyder said the problem is there aren’t enough of the types of classes that teach real-world applications.

“That’s what the Marshall Plan is about, because if you become a software programmer, if you get a good certificate, you can get a job that on average pays $72,000 a year, and you can get that in a year or so,” he said. “Shouldn’t we be lining those up for our young people and people looking for a career? That’s what the Marshall Plan focuses on.”

In a document released Feb. 22 detailing the plan, the state recognized several educators “who are already leading the way” with skilled trades and high-demand career development programs. 

The list includes people from West Michigan such as Ron Koehler, assistant superintendent of Kent Intermediate School District; Andrew Ingall, superintendent of Grand Haven Area Public Schools; and David Searles, career and technical education director with Ottawa Area Intermediate School District.

Snyder said he plans to spend his remaining 10 months in office focused on developing the Marshall Plan and prioritizing the other topics in this address.

“I like to describe it though as I’ve got six ‘dog years’ to go, and we’re going to work hard in every one of those dog years,” he said.

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