By James A. Mitchell

Employers and educators looking to bridge the gap between available jobs and qualified workers have Lansing allies with the same priorities.

Awareness of the issue inspired the recent formation of the House Workforce and Talent Committee, which hopes to serve as a “hub” for policy and communications between employers, educators and potential workers.

“We’ve had too much of a disconnect,” said State Rep. Joel Johnston (R- Clare), who chairs the 14-member panel. “We have a lot of jobs available in Michigan – in fact there’s a dire need for workers – but people aren’t preparing themselves for the jobs that are available.”

State Rep. Joel Johnston (R- Clare)

State Rep. Joel Johnston (R- Clare)

Johnson said the committee’s mission, simply put, is to “match people to jobs.”

Legislative efforts are focused on coordinating industry needs with educational foundations.

“One of the bills we’re working on is to make sure high school counselors receive a fair amount of personal development in career counseling,” Johnson said. House Bill 4552 – introduced and referred to the committee in May – would stipulate requirements for middle and high school counselors with an emphasis on career guidance.

Another piece of legislation under consideration would clarify curriculum and recognition for students of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs.

“Students could receive STEM certifications on their diplomas,” Johnson said of House Bill 4285 that had been introduced in June. “We have a ways to go on that.”

Johnson said that the STEM bill is among six pieces of legislation under committee consideration, each attempting to quantify the needs of businesses and industries into practical educational and training plans.

“We want students to participate in real-world experiences as they are learning,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of good things on, but we need a coordinated effort to make sure we’re preparing the workforce.”

It’s not just high school or college students in need of training and experience. Johnson said the same strategies can assist military members re-entering the civilian world, displaced workers who’d fallen off their career paths during the recession, and potential workers with barriers ranging from literacy to criminal backgrounds.

“We have to make sure these people are aware of the careers that are available,” Johnson said. “It’s also about internships and hands-on work experiences. That’s an area where we’ve lost a lot of participation over the last 20 years.” The committee is currently reviewing three separate bills (HB 4750, 4751 and 4813) to support and expand new jobs programs for intermediate school districts and electrician apprenticeships.

“We’ve had high school graduates say they didn’t get much help in regards to education and careers,” Johnson said. “We have to make sure educational institutions are providing metrics for potential students to look at programs and careers and better prepare themselves.”

For information about the House Committee on Workforce and Talent Development and status of pending legislation visit:

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