Solving workforce issues takes more than educated guesses


The Business Journal has reported this month on more than four initiatives to resolve the crisis in Michigan education, both local and statewide. Or more precisely, the crisis business owners now face as part of an epic talent shortage across the country. The talent shortage is increasingly hitting schools, too, with a deficit showing in hundreds of teacher openings across Michigan.

Add to this scenario the appalling drop in Michigan student education scores showing reading and math skills near or at the bottom of the list among all states. They will be replacing baby boomers who are leaving the workforce in ever-increasing numbers and taking with them an immense amount of knowledge.

One of the more interesting programs just beginning is one that provides a direct feed from school to work — with immediacy: partnerships between local high schools, colleges and businesses which give students hands-on experience that lead straight into jobs. Other partnerships allow students to earn college degrees early using dual enrollment, and therefore enter the workforce earlier. Even those charged with overseeing such programs from the business side are concerned that critical thinking skills are missing. Such was the observation of Shape Corp. Director of Talent Julie Davidson, who has been working to implement the program with Grand Haven Public Schools.

The Business Journal emphasizes this is a return to apprenticeship models that served generations. Elimination of many of those programs resulted in public schools adding classes and teachers in shops and trades … until schools couldn’t afford such programs, either. They went by the wayside along with arts, music and home economics classes (which also focused on personal finance).

Another example is the Michigan Apprenticeship Experience Sooner, a 5-year-old advanced manufacturing training partnership among employers, community colleges and the Michigan Talent Investment Agency (TIA) called the Michigan Advanced Technician Training (MAT2) program. It is aligned with Gov. Rick Snyder’s Marshall Plan for Talent. More than 50 Michigan employers participate, including Benteler Automotive in Grand Rapids.

Meanwhile, Business Leaders for Michigan has helped create Launch Michigan, a partnership of schools, businesses and philanthropy to focus on identifying a series of issues the leaders think will make the “greatest impact on improving student outcomes and develop specific action plans to advance that work,” based on research and facts, according to BLM President and CEO Doug Rothwell.

One big hurdle remains: politicians with old ideas and biases that have contributed to the tumbling Michigan student test scores. The BLM plan for redress offers an educated guess, but it still begs the question as to what legislators will — and won’t — do.

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