Carol Cain| Detroit Free Press

MARQUETTE — Jim Kochevar took over Cliffs Natural Resources’ Michigan operations in 2008 knowing the iron ore mining company — which started about six decades before Henry Ford built his first car — was in transition.

The 166-year-old company — which operates two mines in the Upper Peninsula — needed to keep ahead of changes in the industry.

One of his biggest challenges proved keeping abreast of an aging workforce as 50% of his staff would retire by 2013.

“That kind of transition is difficult — you lose a lot of experienced and hands-on knowledge,” Kochevar said, adding it also allowed the company to bring in younger people with a newer perspective.

That scenario will play out elsewhere as a study by the Michigan Bureau of Labor Market and Strategic Initiatives showed nearly 800,000 people — or 20% of the state’s workforce — are nearing retirement age

Ford, DTE, Amway, Wolverine Coil Spring, Detroit Chassis, Quicken Loans, GalaxE.Solutions and Compuware are just a few others also dealing with talent shortages.

Besides an aging workforce, other reasons mentioned for the gap include the brain drain of young talent, an educational mismatch that leaves workers and companies too often miles apart, and a negative perception about manufacturing, which keeps some from considering it.

Despite a statewide unemployment rate of 8.4%, the state has more than 63,000 jobs unfilled. Areas where jobs go unfilled include IT, engineering, health care and manufacturing.

Gov. Rick Snyder held a two-day economic summit in Detroit three months ago to talk about this situation. He encouraged businesses, educators and organizations to work together as they look at talent needs, adding it was vital to the state’s long-term prospects.

The elixir more communities are ingesting to address the symptoms involves educators, CEOs and even competitors sometimes banding together.

Aggressively recruiting

Cliffs — whose iron ore is used in steel found in the Ford F-150 pickup — is one of the largest employers in the U.P. with 1,668 workers.

To fill its job needs, it became more aggressive about recruiting. It also turned to institutions like Northern Michigan University.

It’s a call NMU President David Haynes has been getting more often.

Which is why he recently launched his innovative Roads Scholar Bus Tour, which takes leaders of its engineering, technical and other schools to meet with businesses and discuss their talent needs. They find employees and even create targeted programs for them.

The tour has visited Iron Mountain, Escanaba and Menominee in the U.P., and Haynes aims to take his bus tour to Detroit as part of his mission to “connect the north and the south” of the sprawling state.

“Our students and alumni want to be part of rebuilding Michigan and metro Detroit,” he said.

All levels of jobs

This talent shortage involves all levels of jobs including skilled trades.

These are often six-figure-paying positions such as electric line worker.

DTE, the largest utility in Michigan with 10,000 employees, created its own line worker training program and has 13 apprentices enrolled at its Shelby Service Center in Macomb County.

“We are going to have heavy turnover at DTE over the next decade — up to 40% of our workforce retiring,” said DTE CEO Gerard Anderson. “We are working hard with community colleges to develop programs to ensure we have the skills as our people leave.”

Seeing the demand for manufacturing workers, Amway got together with the Right Place’s Michigan Manufacturing Council to bring more skilled workers to the west side of the state.

“Talent is truly our most important resource,” said Amway President Doug DeVos. “It drives everything else that we do.”

Few would dispute manufacturing has taken a hit as a career choice given the hundreds of thousands of workers who were right-sized out of jobs in the state.

Which is why DeVos teamed up with Jay Dunwell, president of Wolverine Coil Spring, and others at the Michigan Manufacturing Council to change the perception. They launched the Discover Manufacturing Today Video Challenge for area high school students with a competition to create a short video on why manufacturing was cool.

Dozens of schools from the west side created videos, and the team from Caledonia High School just won a top prize of $2,500. (

‘Look anywhere’

Quicken Loans has been aggressively confronting worker needs through its summer internship program and through other efforts.

Quicken Loans just joined the Community Ventures program to hire the long-term unemployed.

“We need good people, and we are willing to look anywhere and everywhere for them,” said David Carroll, vice president of miscellaneous stuff at Quicken Loans, which has about 200 IT job openings.

Community Ventures was recently launched by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. to place individuals who, because of different circumstances, have had a tough time finding a job. The MEDC wants to place 1,000 employees at firms around the state during the first year.

“Chronic unemployment is a big social and economic problem, and we want to do our part to alleviate it,” Carroll said.

This talent disconnect and what is being done to address it is the subject of a 30-minute prime time TV special airing at 6:30 tonight on CBS 62 called “Bridging Michigan’s Workforce Divide.”

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