In a year when unemployment in the state is at its lowest point in recent memory — 5.4 percent in April according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — hiring managers are now struggling to find qualified talent. A recently-launched initiative may have a solution drawn from a particular segment of workers.
“You have employers saying they need people, and we have people from the defense industry trying to find work,” said Joe McCulloch, a case worker at the Defense Industry Career Transition Center, staffed by Michigan Works! “A lot of companies don’t understand all the services that we provide.”
Funded by a Department of Defense grant, the Career Transition Center aims to fill a talent pipeline with professionals who have lost positions in the defense industry, one of the few sectors to have suffered workforce reductions of late.
McCulloch is in a unique position to understand both ends of the supply-and-demand, having been laid off from a defense contractor post last year.
“Now I’m working on a grant for individuals like myself,” McCulloch said. “What’s cool about this opportunity is you have partners on the grant who are putting together information for the labor force. We’re trying to get some of these individuals who are off the market back to work.”
Spreading the word to employers is among the top priorities for the Career Transition Center, which serves as a hub for Michigan Works! agencies in 13 southeast Michigan counties. The need for the Center was based on information from both employers struggling to find talent and a growing number of professionals transitioning from defense-industry positions or active duty service across most every sector.
“There’s been a decline in defense contract spending in southeast Michigan,” said Sarah Tennant, Economic Adjustment Grant Coordinator for Michigan Works! “We’re reaching out to those who have been displaced and to employers. The goal of this transition center is to do a pre-emptive strike and connect industries to those workers.”
The center’s programs are in the early, outreach stage, with events designed to identify employer needs to better supply the appropriate talent. Tennant said the potential workforce brings considerable experience to the table, whether military-based or from fields including Information Technology and health care.
The advantage for employers is two-fold, Tennant said: Michigan Works! has the existing resources to provide prospective employees with assistance they may need to be workplace-ready — through career advising and training — and information culled from employers will help tailor those services.
“The goal is to keep that workforce in Michigan,” Tennant said. “The message we’re getting is that employers have contracts and need employees to fill positions. We can create a skilled workforce to move fluidly between defense and other industries.”
By James Mitchell