When it comes to addressing the long-term workforce needs in Michigan, is clear that support is needed for the development of an informed, educated, skilled, and experienced talent pipeline.

To answer that need, MI Bright Future was developed. The program, launched by the Workforce Intelligence Network for Southeast Michigan (WIN) in partnership with intermediate school districts, is an integrated online career development system that allows students to explore career options and connect to local employers. The schools that are involved in the partnering phase are from several different districts in southeast Michigan, including Macomb Intermediate School District (MISD), Oakland Schools, St. Clair County Regional Educational Service Agency (RESA), and Livingston Educational Service Agency (LESA).

Job demand in several key fields in Michigan drastically outweighs the number of students interested in or graduating with degrees relevant to these occupations. Demand is two to 14 times higher than the number of graduates with relevant credentials each year in the key occupational clusters of information technology, health care, and manufacturing engineering and skilled trades.

MI Bright Future data, pulled from nearly 36,000 student profiles across the region, indicates that despite best efforts to increase the number of students (and particularly females) interested in STEM fields, their interests still lie elsewhere.

To address these issues, MIBF’s collaboration with students, employers, and educators introduces young jobseekers to the region’s growing occupations by connecting on the MIBF online platform. The platform includes e-mentoring, message boards, and company profiles that help inform students, parents, and educators on current and projected employer needs.

Companies can, in turn, nourish their talent pipeline by interacting with students throughout the career decision-making process, making their future workforce aware of the training needed for particular occupations and introducing them to the wealth of opportunities in Michigan. Even in the early stages, partners such as Oakland schools have benefitted from MIBF and are excited about the opportunity to use this platform.

Mary Kaye Aukee, Executive Director, Career-Focused Education at Oakland Schools, discussed the need for a program like MIBF and the potential in having this tool for establishing relationships between educators, businesses, and students/families.

Q: Why is it important for Michigan schools, (and Oakland schools, specifically) to connect with local employers to fix the talent pipeline?

Aukee: It is critical for schools—especially Oakland schools, since we operate regional CTE for the county—to have career technical campuses, which represent a great opportunity for partnership between education and industry. Educational institutes must work with employers and businesses to understand what skills they need in the current work environments that are unique to each career pathway. Work has changed so drastically with technological advancements that if you are not in the industry, you will never know how technology has changed the required skill sets. A dialogue between K-12 and community colleges, business/industry, and workforce/economic development partners is crucial nowadays.

Q: In your position, what barriers do you and your staff face when working to address postsecondary education and career goals with students? (Examples being: time, misguided ideas, unrealistic career goals, etc.)

Aukee: In my position within Career Technical Education, we have faced barriers in our K-12 system regarding which methods best prepare students for career and college readiness, and then with fitting them all in the school day. The college focus and the typical coursework are wonderful tools that are needed, but today, “career ready” means that students understand what pathways are available to them, and what careers require different levels of education—is a four-year degree needed, a two-year degree, or a certification? Students need training and education beyond high school, but the traditional four-year college might not be the right choice. Counselors who are overloaded understand the need for four-year colleges, but it is hard to change the mindset that this traditional path may not be suitable for all students. Having time in the curriculum to seriously work on educational development plans (EDPs) and career planning is a barrier, as well as removing any pre-vocational classes in the middle.

Q: How have Oakland schools utilized (or plan to utilize) MI Bright Future to educate students about career opportunities?

Aukee: Oakland schools is very excited about MI Bright Future! It is challenging to form enough relationships and set up enough programs for all students to explore career opportunities. The combination of the EDP and career planning, coupled with real-time Michigan businesses that students can connect with and begin to understand what it takes to prepare for those career paths, is priceless.  We are trying to get as many companies into the system as possible so students can view company profiles and see if there are mentoring, job shadowing opportunities and even internships! In addition, we want the Oakland schools staff to be able to use the MI Bright Future system. Employers may want to provide field trips or guest speakers to company events, which is invaluable for staff. We also believe that MI Bright Future benefits the businesses since they can control how much information they share. This is a much better way for us to connect with businesses instead of calling hundreds of them.

Q: What is unique about MI Bright Future that will help your students and students from other areas that are involved?

Aukee: MI Bright Future is unique because it’s “one-stop shopping.” It is real time, with real companies in southeast Michigan and throughout the state, as well as real students and their families.

Q: How can stronger career development processes affect the future workforce?

Aukee: We have millions of jobs in the United States that are not being filled, and many of those jobs are very well paying. There are many students who have college degrees in debt and not in a family wage-earning job/career. There are career opportunities that do not require the traditional four-year college degree pathway to be successful. Career development, if started early, can help students, parents, and educators provide and take advantage of programs, resources, and counseling. Some career areas, like skilled trades, information technology, and cyber security are at a national crisis level, in my opinion. We must all work together to help students navigate this fast-paced, ever-changing world. One pathway is not the answer; certifications, apprenticeships, two-year degrees, and four-year degrees are all needed. If we work collaboratively through resources such as MI Bright Future, we can resolve this issue and make sure every student has the opportunity to be successful.

Are you an employer that wants to help support MI Bright Future? Become a sponsor to help southeast Michigan students connect the dots between school and careers. For more information, please visit www.mibrightfuture.org, emailinfo@mibrightfuture.org, or call (313) 246-3494.

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