James Mitchell| Crain’s Custom Media

A two-day conference hosted by Gov. Rick Snyder put a spotlight both on the state’s talent challenges and solutions.

Speakers, throughout the Governor’s Economic/Education Summit and Education, offered prospects for filling that gap. The conference, which has become an annual event for Snyder, was held on March 2 and 3.

Several key programs, which will offer tools for the state’s employers — and job-seekers — such as MI Bright Future and Project Lead The Way, which were featured in the many Knowledge Workshop Sessions held during the two-day Summit. Industry leaders and educators met to explore a variety of programs to bridge the current skills gap.

Filling the expected shortages for certain skilled positions – particularly Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers – will rely on a collaborative effort between industry and education. Analysts forecast an alarming disparity between qualified workers and available jobs: Nearly half of the state’s available jobs require STEM skills, and an aging “baby boom” population will leave even more openings in the years ahead.

“We’re incredibly nervous,” said Lisa Katz, Executive Director of Workforce Intelligence Network. “This will be the case for the next 16 years.”

A recent study predicted more than 1 million unfilled STEM jobs by 2018, a deficit best addressed in today’s classrooms.

One effort to address the STEM challenges is MI Bright Future, launched in 2012 at the height of the recession. The program makes use of the Career Cruising community development web site, and has licensed a career counseling add-on – ccInspire – to 66 percent of southeast Michigan schools. The site offers students a central database to explore employment fields, which educators said clarifies how classroom lessons apply in the real world.

A workshop on MI Bright Future, “Filling Michigan’s Talent Pipeline through Education and Industry Collaboration,” clarified the program’s ambition.

“Young people need to understand why they’re learning what they’re learning,” said Scott Palmer, Career Technical Education Consultant with Macomb Intermediate School District. The database provides the criteria and expectations for various fields and positions through an interactive, ongoing forum.

“Career development can’t just be an annual event, but something you do year after year,” he said.

Bringing students together with STEM companies has also been the focus of Project Lead The Way, a federally-funded program that puts employers in the classroom. Engineers guide students through basic mechanical and engineering skills via projects such as making a wind turbine or exploring the aerodynamics of paper airplanes.

The project was the focus of a breakout session – “What happens when industry and education speak the same language?” – which described the hands-on aspect of bringing STEM professionals into the classroom.

“It’s project-based learning,” said Gregory Handel, VP of Education and Talent with the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce. “There’s high-level math and science, and it makes those subjects more relevant through hands-on learning. It’s an excellent STEM program.”

Project Lead The Way has been in place at various Detroit area schools since 2009, and last year was launched in Kalamazoo County with the support of 15 partner companies. Participants said the project represents a transformative step in how STEM jobs are perceived – by students and parents – and what skills are required beyond textbook math and science.

“We have to change a whole mind-set in our communities,” said Mike Smitley, Engineering Manager for Kalamazoo-based DENSO Manufacturing Michigan. Nearly 3,000 students county-wide participated in PLTW projects during the 2014-2015 school year, and Smitley said that number is expected to nearly triple in the next few years.

“We need problems solvers and team players. We’re teaching seventh-graders the same problem-solving that we teach on the [company] floor. This is long-term for us.”

During the event, Snyder also presented the the Collaborate, Connect, and Create awards to Michigan’s 10 Prosperity Regions.

“Michigan has some of the best, brightest and most innovative entrepreneurs and educators in the nation,” Snyder said in a press release. “These local businesses, schools, and organizations are working together in really exciting ways to build a talent pipeline that will keep Michigan’s economy moving for generations.”

Share On