Lisa Katz| Crain’s Detroit Blog
Since the end of the recession, Southeast Michigan’s economy continues to make great strides toward recovery. As reported in the third quarter of 2015 labor market report released by theWorkforce Intelligence Network for Southeast Michigan (WIN), 2015 is “on track to be the highest recorded employment since mid-2008.”
Employment and job postings continue to increase. However, labor-force growth remains slow for multiple reasons:
- Workers still may be reluctant to enter a recovering job market.
- Workers may have decided to pursue further education and training.
- Workers may have decided to look for opportunities in other communities.
- Workers have opted to retire.
Since 2008, far more workers have left the job market than have entered to replace them. Slow labor-force growth puts pressure on employment growth, making it harder as time goes by for companies to find qualified workers.
According to recent WIN analysis, an aging workforce has become a considerable concern across industries, including the skilled trades, i.e. machinists, tool and die makers, and engineering technicians.
With 22 percent of the existing skilled trade workforce set to retire within the next five to 10 years, and an additional 32 percent set to retire in the next 10 to 20 years, the region could face losing more than half of its skilled workforce in the next two decades. This imbalance, compounded by the sluggish influx of new workers into the skilled trades (projected to increase by only 7 percent over the next two decades) is creating a “retirement cliff” that the region is quickly approaching. (Several other occupational groupings face similar challenges.)
The upcoming retirement cliff is evidence of a fundamental flaw in the region’s skilled-trade talent ecosystem. The cycles of learning, on-the-job training, and turnover that typically aid the transition in the passing of knowledge from older to younger workers are severely impaired.
Fixing these cycles is essential. While younger workers may possess well-developed technical skills, older workers have the knowledge and experience necessary to put each job into context. How do companies stem the tide of skilled workers out of the state? How can employers attract them to come back? How can they make technical jobs enticing in an age when STEM fields simply are not attractive to alternative candidates? Can the currently damaged learning cycles be rehabilitated to work within the current system and stem the tide of decline?
Creative and innovative solutions exist that will help the region bridge the anticipated retirement cliff. Community colleges and Michigan Works! agencies are working together as part of President Barack Obama’s American Apprenticeship Initiative to offer thousands of apprenticeships to area workers in an array of skilled trade and other technical fields. This is in addition to the Michigan Advanced Technician Training (MAT2) program coordinated by the state but also led by local community college partners.
An array of other similar programs — from early colleges and on-the-job training efforts — exist that can help students and job seekers gain highly demanded skills often at very low-to-no cost, depending on the program.
MI Bright Future is a partnership of K-12 education, higher education, workforce development and employer partners who are working to bring awareness of and exposure to high-demand careers to Southeast Michigan schools. MI Bright Future aims to address long-term workforce needs in Michigan by supporting the development of an informed, educated, skilled and experienced talent pipeline.
ExperienceIT is an experiential training program, which was created in partnership with local employers and workforce development, training, and education partners in an effort to bridge the skills gap, creating deployable IT talent in less than 10 weeks. The program has run multiple cohorts and achieved more than an 80 percent placement rate.
It is creative and innovative programs like those mentioned above, in conjunction with a myriad of other programs and initiatives, that give the region a chance to avoid the retirement cliff, or at least break the fall a bit. Though it is apparent that the Southeast Michigan region will continue to face challenges filling the skills gap, with research and input from employers, these challenges can be identified early on and addressed through partnerships and collaborations among the region’s rich supply of talent-development partners.
This blog was developed with data and research compiled by John Sullivan, project manager, business partnerships at WIN.