Detroit Regional Chamber > Detroiter Magazine > Our Race for Talent: Michigan Must Strengthen Every Section of Talent Pipeline

Our Race for Talent: Michigan Must Strengthen Every Section of Talent Pipeline

May 23, 2023

When we talk about building the Michigan of the future at the Mackinac Policy Conference this year, central to our success will be how we stack up on talent. States that are racing to the top have created strong talent development systems and found ways to attract people from other states.

Michigan struggles with both. We have an education system that ranks near the bottom of the country in student performance and a loss of almost 9,000 working-aged individuals a year to other states. That should give us all pause.

Lack of talent is certainly something on the minds of small business owners, chief executive officers and community developers too. Whether it’s nurses, machinists, information technology workers or engineers, employers of all sizes are struggling to find enough people with the right skills to fill available jobs and support growth.

Jeff Donofrio

Jeff Donofrio, President and Chief Executive Officer, Business Leaders for Michigan

Michigan ranks 37th out of all states in the percentage of working-age adults with posthigh school training. In our latest quarterly economic survey, about 70% of Michigan business leaders say they expect to have trouble filling positions in the next six to 12 months, and 85% cite lack of necessary skills as a major factor when it comes to hiring.

Closing our talent gap will require strengthening every section of our talent pipeline, from early childhood and K-12 education to postsecondary education and worker training. The Launch Michigan framework, developed by leaders in education, philanthropy and business, lays the groundwork to holistically transform K-12 education in Michigan and creates a pathway to post-secondary education and training. We should work to enact it now.

Better Leveraging Community Colleges is Key

Community colleges also are an important tool for both people and businesses to upskill our workforce, create pathways to advanced degrees and close talent gaps. Today, there are 100,000 job openings in Michigan that could be filled by community college graduates, but too few students are making it across the finish line.

Michigan has taken important steps to better leverage our community colleges, including providing tens of thousands of Michiganders tuition-free paths to degrees through the Michigan Reconnect program, setting a goal of reaching 75% community college completion, and establishing student success programs.

We’ll need all those initiatives and more if we hope to improve outcomes. Over the last decade, Michigan has struggled with enrollment and graduation. We rank 48th in enrollment growth, with 218,000 fewer students enrolled today than in 2010, and 49th in our six-year completion rate.

Look to New York and Louisiana for Top-Ranked Programs

We can learn from success in other states. New York established the Accelerated Study in Associate’s Program in 2007 and by 2011, their three-year completion rate improved from 22% to 56%. In Louisiana, the community college-powered “LED Fast Start” program has ranked as the No. 1 workforce program in the country for a record 12 straight years.

The work to transform Michigan will require us to come together around holistic solutions, drive innovation and maintain focus. Let’s commit ourselves not just to talking about the problem, but taking both short- and long-term actions to change Michigan’s trajectory. If we don’t, our state will continue to watch others pass us by.