Guest Blog: Need for Skilled Workers Necessitates New Training Mindset

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Michigan is hiring. Yet, at any given moment, tens of thousands of job openings remain unfilled throughout the region — in health care, information technology, advanced manufacturing, and scores of other occupations — threatening to slow down our economy. We’ve all heard about the skills gap as a root cause of this dilemma, yet when it comes to training and upskilling avenues, there needs to be greater awareness and consideration of apprenticeships as a true and viable option.

Over the past year, the Advance Michigan Center for Apprenticeship Innovation, a $4 million American Apprenticeship Initiative grant, led by the Workforce Intelligence, known as WIN, and the Southeast Michigan Community Alliance, has convened area community colleges, local and regional companies, and workforce/economic development partners to greatly expand U.S. Department of Labor registered apprenticeships across 13 counties in southeastern Michigan.

Fully believing in this model, as recently as two weeks ago, WIN and its partners — with Henry Ford College as lead applicant — submitted a $12 million grant proposal to further increase apprenticeship opportunities in the region to overcome the well-documented labor shortage. In fact, a recent survey of employers indicates more than 4,600 apprenticeships will open over the next four years in Michigan.

Why are registered apprenticeships the answer? Because companies build their apprenticeship programs on a set of standards designed specifically to address skills needed now, and apprentices often earn wages while they learn, concluding with a certification. Ensuring our workforce has the right skills will become even more important as manufacturing, engineering, and information technologies continue to converge, creating a desperate need for cross-technology skills.

Among the most important initiatives gaining momentum across the region to establish these standards is a series of Registered Apprenticeship Program in a Day events. These events help employers streamline the development process, so they can implement apprentice programs more swiftly in more than 1,000 occupations, ranging in diversity from culinary arts to landscaping. Such events also help dispel myths that a company’s road to apprenticeships is long, onerous or expensive, while underscoring the ROI to the business’ bottom line.

It is also important for corporate leadership, including hiring managers, to be amenable to considering a range of entry points for future employees. For many occupations, especially those outside of skilled labor, the bar has been set at the four-year college degree. However, one Downtown Detroit information technology firm, OneMagnify, recently became the first Michigan company to sign on for a new program known as Apprenti, bringing on board two IT apprentices who are taking classes and receiving on-the-job training, positioning them for well-paid and rewarding careers in IT.

Although we celebrated National Apprenticeship Week earlier this month, now is time that all of us — students, parents, schools, workforce agencies, and employers — to open our minds to new options, new opportunities, and new possibilities in career cultivation and workforce development. It is time to realize potential, fill the gap and keep Michigan moving forward.

Michele Economou Ureste is executive director for the Workforce Intelligence Network for Southeast Michigan.

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