Demand rising for middle-skilled jobs

By JUSTINE McGUIRE

Capital News Service

LANSING – Not everyone needs a bachelor’s degree.

A recent national survey shows that employers have trouble filling middle-skilled jobs, and it said state-run programs could do more to help.

The Michigan Manufacturers Association, or MMA, and local agencies say the same void exists around the state and they are working to fill it.

There are more than 7,000 production job openings in Michigan and that number is expected to grow, said Delaney McKinley, director of human resource policy for MMA. In the next 10 years, 50  percent of production workers will retire.

“That’s a scary number,” she said.

A federal Government Accountability Office, or GAO, survey showed that 80 percent of local areas across the nation have trouble filling certain jobs, including middle-skilled jobs, such as those in manufacturing.

Middle-skilled jobs require more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree. They’re found in manufacturing, technology, health care, skilled trades and other firlds.

McKinley said Michigans Works!’ demand-driven model has been helpful in filling jobs.

Michigan Works!’ mission is fill voids in the labor market by helping employers find the employees they need and by training people for in-demand jobs. It’s a go-between for businesses and educational institutions, such as community colleges, to make sure programs meet the needs of the job market.

“It floats all boats up if we all work together,” McKinley said. “We all want the same thing.”

Northwest Michigan faces the same shortage that the nation is experiencing, said Northwest Michigan Works! Chief Executive Officer Elaine Wood. There is local demand for machinists, welders, nurse technicians, technology specialists and other occupations.

“Michigan has always been the best-performing state in nation for talent development programs,” Wood said. “We have a great track record and we’re moving forward and innovating.

“We are the best state, maybe the only one, taking on a totally demand-driven approach and asking what employers need,” she said. “I think that’s what’s making us stand out.”

Michigan Works! agencies are in direct contact with local businesses in their area to identify what is needed there, Wood said.

The GAO survey showed that 90 percent of local areas use state job banks to identify in-demand jobs and 93 percent partner with local economic development agencies.

One explanation for the shortage of middle-skilled workers could be the push for higher education, said Wood, who is based in Traverse City. High school students and parents don’t realize there are options other than a four-year degree, such as a two-year auto tech program at Northwestern Michigan College that gives graduates the opportunity to find jobs with good starting salaries.

The agency covers Antrim, Benzie, Charlevoix, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, Manistee, Missaukee and Wexford counties.

Thirty-six percent of Michigan’s workforce has some college education, which is more than all other Great Lakes states and the nation, according to the National Association of Workforce Boards.

“It’s absolutely true that you need some kind of post-high school education, but it’s not clear exactly what that entails,” she said.

According to a study by the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget, about 6,000 industrial and construction skilled trade job openings — generally middle-skilled jobs — exist in the state each year and those jobs pay a median wage of $21 per hour.

Agencies around the state are disseminating information to students and parents about options after high school.

For example, Eastern Upper Peninsula Michigan Works! in Sault Ste. Marie is assessing school districts to find out what information they provide about career paths so it can fill the voids and disseminate best practices, said Gwen Worley, executive director.

“We try to provide what’s missing,” she said. Her agency covers Chippewa, Luce and Mackinac counties.

Often, people aren’t aware jobs are available, Worley said. The U.P. isn’t traditionally strong in manufacturing, but there is a demand for some manufacturing jobs, and most people wouldn’t think of that as an option.

Worley said challenges to filling employers’ needs aren’t always straightforward. Recently she spoke with a local employer whose biggest concern is finding people with desirable work habits, such as clocking in on time.

Success stories in the Eastern U.P. include jobs in the growing health care sector — currently the agency is looking for people to train for health care-related jobs.

RESOURCES  for Editors:

National Association of Workforce Boards

GAO Report

Success Stories

Department of Technology, Management and Budget study

List of local Workforce Investment Boards

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