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If Michigan plans to remain at the forefront of auto manufacturing, it will need a sizeable talent pool to address its hiring needs. That was one of the key talking points at PRSA Detroit’s June event, where a panel of Michigan tech journalists -- Sharon Carty of Automotive News, Mike Brennan of MI Tech News, Dustin Walsh of Crain’s Detroit Business and Tim Seppala of Engadget -- reviewed the state of Michigan’s education system and highlighted steps the state can take to narrow its talent gap.    

A four-year degree is not the only (or best) education option

As industries shift toward high-tech systems, Michigan will need a workforce with a working knowledge of advanced technologies. According to the panel, industrial technology is evolving so quickly that it’s difficult for our education system to keep up, and the effects are starting to show. In some cases, middle managers are earning less than recent graduates entering the workforce.

The difference is in the training. The demand for skilled workers is rising, with more than 800,000 jobs expected to be available in Michigan by 2024 in industries such as information technology, manufacturing and HVAC. If Michigan develops enough training programs for future workers, it could become a leader in job growth and opportunity.

Part of the challenge, the panel noted, will be to remove the stigma associated with education pathways outside of a four-year college degree. Most available jobs don’t require a four-year degree, but they do require an apprenticeship or the completion of a skilled-trades program. 

Prospective employees want more than business incentives

With Michigan on track to become a hub of modern industry, the state will need a talent pool to match. The bevy of available jobs isn’t quite cutting it, as Michigan has suffered from a talent drain for more than a decade. Since 2001, the people who have left Michigan outnumber those who have moved in by more than 700,000.

With that in mind, it will take more than business incentives alone to retain and attract young workers who have graduated with a degree or completed specialized training, according to the panel. Major cityscapes, including Detroit and Grand Rapids, will need to support the lifestyles of its workers. Cultural factors, including education, outdoor activities and public transit, will play a major role in convincing people to move (or stay) for a job.

 As industries evolve, talent needs are shifting

As businesses transform due to technological advancements, new jobs will be created and others will potentially be left behind. The panel said it will be critical for companies to keep up with today’s fast-paced changes in order to prepare for the future.

Michigan is already working to anticipate its future needs. The state created a "STEM endorsement" for middle- and high-school students, designed to help those interested in skilled trades stand out amongst their peers. Last month, Gov. Snyder signed legislation for a $100 million workforce-training program that will expand K-12 education for high-demand fields and create scholarships for low-income students.

 With talent needs ranging from automotive technicians to construction workers, technology is increasingly at the center of Michigan’s economic development. To read more about tech’s larger impact on Michigan’s future, stay tuned for the final part of our three-part blog series. 

Read Part One

What do you think will attract top tech talent to Michigan? We’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.