Original story published as a guest blog by Michigan Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley on CrainsDetroit.com on November 12, 2017. Click here to view the original story on CrainsDetroit.com.

Michigan has long been known for its hard-working people. That hasn’t changed over the years. But the careers that transform Michigan — and the world — are very different from even a few short years ago.

With more than 500,000 new private-sector jobs created since 2010, employers know that Michigan is a great place to locate and expand. But our work isn’t done, and we need to help more people gain in-demand skills so they can fill rewarding jobs as we continue to grow our economy.

National Apprenticeship Week provides us the opportunity to highlight one of the many pathways to good jobs available here. Registered apprenticeship programs continue to be an effective way to grow Michiganders’ paychecks and provide a sustainable, prosperous lifestyle.

Today, there are more than 900 registered apprenticeship programs in the Great Lakes State, with 14,000-plus apprentices, putting us in the top 10 in the nation for these training programs.

Make no mistake, these programs are beneficial to businesses, too. For every dollar spent, companies see a $1.50-plus return on their investment.

And apprentices are expanding to new fields. Michigan last year was awarded a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to expand the number of apprenticeship opportunities for women, veterans and other underrepresented populations. The grant will expand a learning network for employers and intermediaries to grow apprenticeships in targeted industries and occupations including agriculture, construction, energy, health care, information technology and manufacturing.

The challenge that lies before us now is educating our students about this pathway that can provide a lifetime of reward and opportunity. We have a career-awareness and a perception issue, creating a barrier that prevents students from getting career-connected. We need to shatter stereotypes and inform students so they can make the best possible decision for their future.

By 2024, professional trades will account for more than 500,000 jobs in our economy, adding 15,000 new jobs each year during that time. Baby boomers are retiring and we need more talent with the in-demand skills and knowledge needed to fill the numerous openings within the professional trades.

As I travel across our state, I hear from businesses — small and large — that talent is a prime factor in decisions on where to grow and locate. We want to attract the big projects, but also grow the small businesses that are the strength of our economy. Talent is the new economic currency of the Michigan economy, and we must lead now to take our success to the next level.

The primary goal of the Michigan Career Pathways Alliance, a growing, 90-plus member alliance led by the Michigan Department of Talent and Economic Development and the Michigan Department of Education, is closing our talent gap.

The alliance outlined 17 initiatives designed to improve student access to multiple pathways — including apprenticeships — which build off the recommendations of the 21st Century Economy Commission and 21st Century Education Commission reports. They’re making substantial progress, and there is much work ahead. It takes all of us to effect meaningful change.

Our state shines best when Michiganders have the ability and opportunity to thrive.

We’ve come a long way, but we need to keep our foot on the gas.

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