Rayl and Jones: Michigan economy depends on skilled work force

March 05, 2013

As Michigan's economy has improved, partly through the recovery of the automotive industry, there has been a growth in new and existing industries. That growth has led employers in search of skilled workers to fill the jobs that are being created. However, this growth is in jeopardy due to the across-the-board cuts entailed in sequestration, which went into effect March 1.

Michigan has turned the corner economically. Employers are looking to fill jobs instead of cutting them. But there are not enough workers with the skills for the jobs employers need to fill. We face a challenge to continue Michigan's recent economic growth by closing the skills gap, reducing unemployment, and creating more jobs. To do that, we must invest in our work force.

Nationally, over 3 million jobs are going unfilled, in part because employers report that they are unable to find workers whose skills match job openings.

According to the National Skills Coalition, there is a middle-skills gap in Michigan — jobs that require more than a high school diploma but less a four-year degree. In 2009, about 50 percent of Michigan's jobs were in middle-skill occupations. But only 45 percent of the state's workers likely have the appropriate training for these jobs. This gap will continue without new investments.
To train just 5 percent more of Michigan's work force with the skills needed for these jobs would require an investment of at least $1 billion, or 3.3 times Michigan's current federal funding for all job training, adult education, vocational education, and financial aid for community college students.

Congress is going in the exact opposite direction. Due to sequestration, Michigan will lose nearly $22 million in federal work force funding in 2013, a cut that will mean that close to 70,000 fewer Michigan workers will be served by job training and related programs. That is on top of millions of dollars in cuts to federal work force funding since 2001.

These cuts have a real impact on employers' ability to hire workers and create jobs. If these cuts are allowed to occur, manufacturers in Michigan and across the entire country will be doubly impacted.

Cuts in defense and other government procurement spending will translate directly and immediately into less orders for manufactured goods. On top of that, additional cuts to funding that supports worker training and related services will make it even harder for companies to find and maintain a highly skilled work force.

Many of the manufacturers we speak with are struggling to find and hire qualified new employees to handle increased workloads. To bridge the skills gap, employers are turning to local Michigan Works agencies, community colleges and trade schools for fast-track training.

Continued disinvestment in skilled job training programs means good-paying, skilled jobs that are critical to the auto industry and our state will go unfilled. Employers will not be able to expand; our undereducated and economically disadvantaged will remain stuck in a cycle of poverty. We have a responsibly to get our state back to work.

Our experience is that when offered, those needing new skills will inquire about and sign up for job training programs, reflecting the incredible demand for training and opportunities. And these programs help lead these workers into high-paying careers in growing fields. But sequestration makes it difficult to meet the high demand of both individuals and employers.

Deep cuts have consequences, threatening the competitiveness of our workers and employers in Michigan and across the country. To continue growing our economy and getting people back to work, we must ensure our workers have the skills to compete. Congress can lead the way by halting sequestration and reinvesting in our work force.