First in a two-part series.
Professional athlete. Actor. Veterinarian. Cosmetologist. These are just some of the most desired occupations selected by more than 30,000 students in Southeast Michigan, according to data from the MI Bright Future program. Though there is nothing wrong with dreaming about being a professional football player or a stylist to the stars, there is a misalignment between what students are interested in and the jobs available in the region.
Software developers. Registered nurses. Mechanical engineers. These are the occupations most needed in southeast Michigan.
A recent Bridge Magazine article discussed how Michigan college graduates are still leaving the state. The problem is not the availability of jobs, but rather, the mismatch between what students are considering for careers and what careers are up for grabs. Furthermore, many students are not even aware of what occupations are available in this region, or how those occupations might be a great fit for their desired lifestyle, assuming they must leave Michigan to find what they want. While regional employers are screaming for talent, that message is not reaching the student population.
Besides what their family members do and what they see on TV, high school students have little to no exposure to careers — and definitely not to the careers that Michigan needs right now.
Wayne Liedeker, a technical consultant at Rockwell Automation, told Workforce Intelligence Network: “As a member of the so called ‘ageing workforce,’ I am concerned about the shortage of skilled and technical resources coming up behind me in the automation and manufacturing industries.” As in, they do not exist. In fact, Liedeker went so far as to design and implement a training program for the new hires at Rockwell, recognizing a critical need for additional on-the-job training upon hiring.
While demand for skilled, certified workers has continued to rise in specific fields in Michigan, the number of individuals completing degrees and certifications of relevance to that field are stagnating — and in some cases, like health care — dropping.
Why is this happening? Imagine planning a dream vacation: A European getaway? Relaxing on a beach? Hiking through exotic jungles? Once decided, travelers can begin to pack accordingly: Dress shoes for Europe, flip flops for the beach, hiking boots for the jungle. It will all make sense once they get there.
Now, imagine trying to plan the same trip, but this time, the destination is unknown. How much will it cost? When will it happen? What shoes should be packed?
Many Michigan students are in the second scenario. Without a career goal as a map and compass for college, they are unable to prepare accordingly for the working world that comes after school is over. While many efforts are in place to support students making the decision to go to college, there are not enough tools to help a student understand why they are going to college.
College — which the Michigan College Access Network and others have begun to define as any type of postsecondary certification, not just university — is certainly valuable and generally increases an individual’s chances at economic and personal success. For many students, however, college without a purpose will lead to an unfinished degree (combined with debt) or a degree in a field that does not adequately prepare them for the available job openings in Michigan.
Career goals serve as a needed compass: They can tell students where they might want to go to school (where are the best programs for their career goals); how much they should pay and how long they should spend in that training (does the occupation require a four-year degree or an associate’s degree); and show students what classes they should be taking to make sure they are prepared for postsecondary endeavors.
In addition, students who know why they are spending an inordinate amount of time in classrooms and on homework have higher rates of persistence and completion of certifications.
Essentially, in Michigan schools over the past 10 years, students have been asked to pack, prepare and leave for a long vacation, but they do not know where they are going. When they get there, they will probably have brought the wrong shoes — and may even have to invest in a new pair upon arrival.
As a state, more priority must be placed on helping young people do a better job of preparing for the world that awaits beyond high school doors. When it’s the trip of a lifetime, why delay?