Lisa Katz| Crain’s Detroit Blog

Southeast Michigan employers say they are struggling to find the talent they need, especially in key fields like information technology and advanced manufacturing. And they do not want just any talent: They want seasoned talent. In fact, nearly 50 percent of job postings indicate a preference for hiring workers with at least 1-4 years of experience.

This demand comes on the forefront of a looming retirement boom, when older workers will begin retiring in droves. In Southeast Michigan, we estimate that there are roughly 58,000 new retirees per year, and this trend will continue for the next 18 years.

The problem is that as these older workers move to retirement (especially now that investment portfolios have begun to recover), we are not investing sufficiently to help young people develop the experience that employers say they desire. At 30 percent, the unemployment rate for Detroit Metro youth (ages 16-21) is the highest among large metropolitan areas in the country.

The message for young people is clear: go out and get experience. This means participating in hands-on educational opportunities, working on a capstone project, doing internships, and holding a job while going to school. The trick is that these opportunities must be made available for young people to participate in them.

Intern in Michigan is a website that matches students to employers based on skills, interests and requirements. Last year, more than 1,000 Michigan businesses posted nearly 3,400 internship opportunities statewide on Intern in Michigan. More than half of these were opportunities with small businesses. More than 14,000 students have visited the site, far outnumbering the available internship positions. Southeast Michigan employers like Quicken Loans have agreed to bring on 1,000 interns this summer, but there is need for many more opportunities.

If our region is to overcome the talent gap (and even, one day, be ahead of it) companies must help provide young people with the experiences they say they need.

Furthermore, while summer youth experiences offer an array of amazing opportunities for young people, they can benefit even more from career experience and exposure year-round. Employers can participate in these opportunities by allowing young people to tour their offices, asking staff to serve as mentors, sharing information about what it means to do a job, and more. In the city of Boston, nearly every high school has been adopted by a company, ensuring that students have ongoing access to a diverse array of career awareness and exposure activities.

While overcoming the talent gap is a cause worthy in itself, our region has much more to gain by helping young people better understand the world of jobs. Research shows that young people are more likely to persist in their education, both through high school and into college, if they see the relevance of their academic experience to real-world work experience. This, in turn, supports a higher standard of living, a stronger economy, and avoidance of numerous social challenges, from substance abuse among young people to incarceration. The reality, though, is that employers benefit too: young people can provide a range of support to companies, supporting overtaxed staff, working on special projects, creating intergenerational awareness, and offering new ideas and innovative solutions.

Fortunately, many Detroit area partners are working on strategies to coordinate such opportunities, but they need willing partners—especially companies—that are willing to give young people real exposure to and experience in the work place. Want to help overcome the talent gap, support our region’s development, or help your company’s bottom line? Get involved in providing some sort of employment exposure or experience for youth.

How can you get involved?
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