In early May, Crain’s and Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP convened a panel of executives for a discussion about how metro Detroit and Michigan can develop and retain talent. The following is an edited transcript. In some cases, comments have been reordered to preserve the conversational thread.
The panel was moderated by Executive Editor Cindy Goodaker.
• David Carroll, vice president of miscellaneous stuff, Quicken Loans, Detroit.
• Amy Cell, senior vice president, talent enhancement, Michigan Economic Development Corp.
• Giulio Desando, manager, talent acquisition, North America, Tata Technologies, Novi.
• Lou Glazer, president, Michigan Future Inc., Ann Arbor. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas about how Michigan can succeed in a knowledge-driven economy.
• Ken Harris, president and CEO, Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce, Detroit, with chapters across Michigan.
• Lisa Katz, executive director, Workforce Intelligence Network, Detroit. WIN is a coalition of local community colleges, MichiganWorks agencies and economic development agencies working with local employers to identify and respond to employment needs.
• Julie Norris, director of attorney development and recruitment, Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn.
• Kevin Stotts, president, Talent 2025, Grand Rapids. Talent 2025’s goal is for West Michigan to be globally recognized as a top 20 region in the U.S. for entrepreneurship and talent.
• Linzie Venegas, business unit manager, Ideal Shield; chief marketing officer, Ideal Group, Detroit.
Cindy Goodaker, Crain’s: What are some of the biggest challenges you see in developing and retaining talent?
Lisa Katz, Workforce Intelligence Network: Obviously, there are a lot of challenges, but one of the biggest is helping people understand where job growth is occurring and understanding how we get individuals ready for that growth.
Right now, we have a lot of people who are ready and willing to work but they don’t necessarily have the right skills or the right experience, and in the short term that is putting a damper on growth opportunities for our region. In the long run, it’s making it difficult to show young people where the long-term career prospects are, so they’re not getting the education or training that they need.
Goodaker: Let’s talk a little about planning for long-term demand.
After 2008 when a lot of people lost their jobs, there was an emphasis on retraining, and one of the areas where it was thought there would be a lot of demand was health care. People retrained for health care jobs and then the industry stopped hiring.
So how do you balance the need for people trained to do particular things as opposed to having people ready to learn a variety of things?
David Carroll, Quicken: I think it’s safe to say that technology is part of the future and always will be. That’s not something that’s going to come and go, but it is tricky because you could teach a certain type of programming language today that’s the hot language, and then five years from now it may be obsolete.
I think it’s important, especially in K-12 and college to focus more broadly on some core technology skills and also creative thinking.
Kevin Stotts, Talent 2025: To add to what David said, we’ve been polling our HR leaders in West Michigan, and what they’re looking for are creative thinkers, people who are adaptable in the workplace, who are motivated, a lot of the softer skills.
Lou Glazer, Michigan Future: Mike Schmidt, who is at the Ford Motor Co. Fund (director, education and community development), just told me he’d been at a presentation that Gene Sperling did. Gene Sperling is one of Obama’s economic advisers but also had a similar position with Clinton. Sperling said that when he was with the Clinton administration, one of the hot jobs they were pushing people toward was travel agents, because it was one of the fastest-growing occupations.
Obviously, this was pre-Internet, so Sperling was telling this story to say that occupational projections are tenuous at best. If you look at the history, it’s really hard to figure this stuff out.
The one thing we know is that machines are going to continue to get smarter and do more of the work that humans used to do, but we don’t know how they’re going to get smarter, so it really means the broader skills that Kevin and David were talking about.
If you don’t have those skills, if you have job-specific skills, the half life’s getting shorter and shorter on your ability to make money on those job-specific skills.
Giulio Desando, Tata Technologies: I would tend to agree, and I think one of the things we need to do is change the perception of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
Many times when you talk to a young person in high school and you tell them, “You should look at going into engineering and look at the automotive industry,” they say, “Well, you know, I don’t want to be stuck in a plant for the rest of my life.” But if you look at electric vehicles, some of the autonomous vehicles that companies are starting to build, there’s a lot of excitement in the technology.
Katz: We need to help people understand that the nature of work is changing as well. It’s not just the technology with which we work, it’s how we do work, and that means that we’re changing careers repeatedly throughout our lives.
Sometimes we’re going to be in a traditional comfortable work environment where we have all the benefits and all the comfort we want, well-paying and everything. Sometimes we’re going to be in the un-job market where we might have to think about being a contract worker or we may think “I need to set up my own shop for a while.”
There’s no saying in what proportion a person will spend their lives in each one of those areas, but the likelihood is we’re going to have more and more volatility about how we work.
Amy Cell, MEDC: I agree with everyone’s points here, there are employers that need specific skills and they’re willing to invest in training or there are training funds that are available. I think we’ve gotten better at connecting with employers who are willing to train and invest in a particular person in a particular skill set that they know they’re going to need. So, while 20 years from now a person might be doing different things, there are opportunities for people to transition into jobs now that employers need.
Preparing for the future
Goodaker: So how does an individual person prepare for that? What is the type of education people should get to best prepare themselves for the future?
Julie Norris, Honigman: In the legal industry, there is mounting pressure on law schools to provide real hands-on experience, which is a real change in how legal education has been done for the last many decades, and some law schools are responding to that by introducing internships, clinics, things like that, which we appreciate and we value when we see it on a résumé.
Then once we actually hire people, we’re very aware of providing our attorneys a broad skill set. We’ve just introduced a new system where there are partners in charge making sure young attorneys get a breadth and depth of experience and are not pigeonholed too soon in their career where they’re left with fewer options.
Katz: I think employers do care about the educational background a person comes into a job with, but I think more often they want to focus on what has the person done, so I think the best advice I would give to anybody is have lots of experiences. If you want to work in a certain field, you should demonstrate interest and a passion in that field.
Carroll: We have about 7,600 people at our company, and I guarantee not one person got a degree in mortgage lending. Not one person as a little kid said, “I want to be in the mortgage business.” So while I do think it’s important to have some basic STEM curriculum in school, I would tell young people to major in what they want to major in, what they enjoy learning about, because they won’t have time to do that when they’re older.
But I think the key is to be flexible, and seek out companies where they can learn a lot. Once they get into a company and real world, people get a better sense of what they want to do, so it’s important to hook up with a good company and be flexible.
Linzie Venegas, Ideal Group: I think it’s really important for young people that we hire that they have some type of experience or internship or freelance experience, but also that they have built a network of resources. You want to make sure these people you’re going to hire are going to evolve. You can provide them opportunities, but they also need to help provide opportunities for themselves.
Desando: I think that having a co-op or an internship is important. When we hire engineers, that’s the first thing we look for. What we find is they tend to be better rounded, more creative and the ramp-up time is shorter because they’ve already been in the industry.
I think at the high-school level, it would be good to have some kind of co-op curriculum where students can explore different types of careers.
Stotts: I’d say that should be extended down into the middle school level. In today’s society, there’s a movement from the generalist coming out of high school to more of a specialist. You have to have a higher technical knowledge even coming out of high school to move into an occupation.
There’s a big opportunity for business to partner with educators, to be involved and to show those career pathways and career exploration from middle school on.
Venegas: We work with Detroit Cristo Rey High School because we have a lot of inner city students. A lot of their parents work many hours, come from a lot of single family homes, but to be able to integrate into a workforce everyday can mean that their role model has changed from a basketball star or a movie star to a marketing professional or an office person. They can look at somebody and say, “I can be just like that person,” and have a house and a job.
Ken Harris, Michigan Black Chamber: We’re focusing as a chamber of commerce on entrepreneurship. If you go into a classroom, you’ll find out if you ask students whether they would rather have a career or profession or own their own business, I would say that the majority would say, “I want to own my own.”
So we think it’s important to help cultivate an innovative mindset to where, even if you have a degree or career, you can still be entrepreneurship-minded. I think that is really critical in this day and time because innovation is really what’s going to transform Michigan and the communities we reside in.
Katz: One thing I notice every time I have a conversation like this, we naturally start talking about young people and we don’t necessarily talk about middle-aged people or people who are older.
Sometimes people are going through a career transition or they’re retiring and they want to have a second career and they need to do that same type of career exploration.
Those individuals need to think about taking a class at a community college and being able to demonstrate that they want to learn new things. They have to do the same things as young people do to be able to compete in this job market.
The education factor
Glazer: I think talent has become the headline for two different conversations. I think it’s important to make a distinction between the two. One is skill shortages. It’s occupations for which there seem to be more demand than supply. The second way is what we’ve been working on at Michigan Future for a while, the whole notion of how talent relates to economic growth. That’s not really as much about meeting the current needs of employers, it’s about how talent has turned out to be the asset that matters most in growing Michigan, growing economies and particularly growing high-wage economies.
The only folks who have job growth since the recession started are folks with four-year degrees or more, period.
The story that we’re told over and over and over again is that there are too many four-year graduates and not enough folks with some college and no B.A., which would include occupational degrees, occupational certificates and associate degrees. That’s wrong. There’s zero job growth for folks like that in the marketplace for the last six years, and then, obviously, it’s completely collapsed for high school and less than high school educations.
So what employers are actually doing are hiring people with four-year degrees.
So Michigan’s fundamental problem is that unless we change our industry mix, we’re going to be one of the poorest places in the country.
That’s why, from our perspective, the basic story is about why retaining and attracting college-educated talent, particularly young mobile college-educated talent, has become a linchpin to economic growth.
Harris: That’s a startling scenario when you think that the only employable people are those who have a degree. That makes it a scenario where we have to focus on the disparity between the haves and the have-nots.
It also creates a framework where entrepreneurship fits into almost every segment of society. Where do we find those diamonds in the rough and get them producing and manufacturing? That’s where some of your innovators and your entrepreneurs are, and this is where jobs can come from.
We must cultivate and provide the necessary resources that will help individuals who necessarily do not have a formal education, but individuals who are trained in putting food on the table and, most importantly, communities that are left out of the equation in most scenarios, which are minority groups, women and immigrants and, most importantly, African-Americans, who really find themselves in a position where they would like to be employable but connecting to the overall economic fabric of society is very difficult.
Venegas: Even students from the inner city realize education is their liberation. Are we giving them the best education possible so they can compete in college?
That’s where we’re really failing because they don’t have technology, they don’t have the education, they don’t have the updated school books, so can’t compete. That’s where the businesses and the education, we have to work together so we can give people opportunities because there are a lot of great students out there who are willing to do what it takes.
Stotts: We have specific data that shows over the next 10 years we’re going to require 50,000 more bachelor’s degrees to meet the occupational demand and at the same time 50,000 fewer jobs requiring less than a high school degree or diploma. We do still see demand increasing for credentials and associate degrees.
Over the past couple of years, it’s been a buyer’s market for talent for those occupations, but as that talent has been absorbed or moved on out of the state, you have employers looking at their workforce and saying, “In 10 years, I’m going lose 200 tool and die makers or 200 CNC operators.”
I have an employer who’s not even posting positions who can hire 60 engineering technicians today if they could find that person. These are high wage; the training would be paid for.
Carroll: I don’t question Lou’s data, but we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to people who don’t have college degrees. I know we like to bring in really good people and train them internally, and I think businesses should do that.
I think they could improve in terms of loyalty and having a better chance to mold people their way, bringing in people who have good integrity, good character, good work ethic, good energy. I think employers would get what they need and it would also help underserved communities.
Goodaker: Are they then ready for the next job, though?
Carroll: I think most people learn more on the job than they do in college. It’s not a knock against college. I believe strongly in education for the sake of education. I think it’s great to learn astronomy, philosophy, a lot of things — not necessarily what you’re going to use in your career.
But I went to business school and law school, which are hard-core vocational style training, and I barely remember a thing I learned there. Everything I learned I learned on the job.
Cell: I can’t let the opportunity pass to mention our program, Opportunity Ventures, which really focuses on people who have not had opportunities.
We have a population in some of our most challenged communities in Michigan who haven’t had the opportunities or the education, or they have met other barriers.
We have a program where there are entry-level jobs that pay a living wage and we can give support, addressing day care, transportation issues. We even have a job coach that will coach on basic concepts, things that maybe participants didn’t have role models for.
We got an email this week from one of our employers raving about the job coaching piece as being a key retention tool. We target unemployed people who wouldn’t necessarily get a job in this economy, people who don’t have a high school degree, recently released from prison, long-term unemployed. We have a retention rate of almost 90 percent in the short-term, so we’re hoping that we can continue to work with them and get them connected to other educational resources so they can move up the pipeline.
Hopefully this is helping to break poverty cycles so that their children are more likely to finish high school and get those degrees.