Employers expect dwindling pool of qualified workers

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Capital News Service
LANSING — Despite a nationwide economic slowdown, Michigan employers can anticipate a dwindling pool of qualified workers in the coming decade.
Area experts have different opinions about what attributes or skills will be in demand in the coming years, but they all agree that “getting back to the basics” will be a key feature in many future employees’ personal portfolios.
“We’re experiencing that economic slowdown now and 10-year projections are that Michigan will face a severe labor shortage,” said Michael Rogers, the vice president of communications for the Lansing-based Small Business Association of Michigan.
Education is the first line of opportunity for potential employees, added Gary Woodbury, the SBAM president. Indications are that some high school graduates will attempt to enter highly competitive job markets with just a high school diploma, he said.
“I’m not exaggerating when I say that more education will be important to both the employer and employee,” Woodbury said. “If it wasn’t for the cash register displaying how much change goes back to the customer, some people wouldn’t have a clue.”
Higher educational accomplishments, such as graduating from vocational or technical schools, community colleges and accredited universities, will be the first factor many employers will use to identify the caliber and value of future applicants, local experts acknowledge. Beyond that, personal traits, talents and “real world” experience become focal points in identifying quality employees.
“A lot of employers, across many fields, are looking for people with solid work ethics,” said Jackie Vance, the marketing and public relations director for the Capital Area Michigan Works! program.
“Businesses want employees who possess work ethics similar to those of earlier generations.”
Punctuality, respect for fellow employees, contingency plans for child care and transportation, and an understanding that the job is the employee’s responsibility are all things business owners would like to see in their workers, Vance indicated.
In the past decade, when there was a boom in the technology-based industries, employees could “pick and choose” jobs, Vance explained. In the emerging job market, things are different.
“The opportunity to shop around for work, or change jobs at will, is not as prevalent as it once was,” she said. “For today’s employer, work is a state of mind. Dedication and respect are much-sought attributes.”
Other assets that potential employees should possess include experience and diversity, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture representative at Michigan State University. Having more than one skill or talent will continue to be an appealing trait sought by employers nationwide, said USDA liaison Ray Ostos.
“The more multicultural and multilingual a person is, the better the candidate,” said Ostos, who works to promote USDA job and educational opportunities to underrepresented minorities.
Bilingualism is an asset in areas where communities have undergone dramatic growth in Latino populations, such as Kent County. In Kent, the Hispanic population swelled almost 163 percent, from 17,579 to 46,223 since 1990, according to Michigan Works’ 2002 Annual Planning Information Report. Kent’s labor force increased nearly 10 percent, with more than 30,000 people entering the job market, during that period.
With expanding international trade agreements, such as the North America Free Trade Agreement between Mexico, Canada and the United States, and the multi-country European Union, employees who can reach across cultural boundaries in the name of business will rapidly become a hot commodity in the job market, Ostos added. Prospective employees with existing experience will become prime candidates for jobs.
“Experiences in internships, fellowships and cooperatives will be important to employers,” the USDA liaison explained. “Real-world experiences, anything that demonstrates exposure in a real life setting, will be an invaluable asset.”
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism

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