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Labor force isn't trained for growing number of high-skill jobs


Time is running out for low-wage workers in Michigan; it's time to go back to school. 

That's the message from Business Leaders for Michigan, which released a report this week forecasting the state's workforce participation in the coming years. In the short term, things look good -- but not for long.

The report found high-skilled jobs are increasing in the state, but fewer adults have the proper training for those jobs. 

Right now, two-thirds of Michigan jobs only require a high school diploma or less, according to the report. But through the next couple of years, BLM projects "76% of all job openings that pay above average wages require an associate's degree or higher." Meanwhile, none of the low-skill job openings offers pay above the average hourly wage. 

The report estimates there will be 38,000 openings through 2018; but without any training beyond high school, an applicant's potential earnings will vary greatly. 

Michigan's problem is largely demographic: the state's population is aging, with Michigan ranking 46th nationally in the percentage of 25-34 year olds, according to the report.

But Michiganders are also stuck on old-school ideas of what a manufacturing job is. 

"We really are undereducated and trained as a nation in order to compete in this new economy, but Michigan faces it a little more severely," said Doug Rothwell, CEO and President of Business Leaders for Michigan.

Whereas in the old days a person with just a high school degree could get a stable manufacturing job, Rothwell explained that same job now requires some type of post-secondary school -- whether it's additional training, an associate's degree, or a four-year college degree.

Of course, this isn't breaking news to anyone in the state where manufacturing jobs have been on the decline for years, but Rothwell said his report should spur more young-adults to continue their education.

"We are seeing that over the next couple of years that inflection point really is going to occur where especially the best paying jobs are going to require more and more education and training," he said. "So I think we're going through that transformation as we speak."

Michigan ranks 31st nationally in the percentage of adults with an associate's degree or higher. The report found the average hourly wage of a low-skilled worker is $17.68, while that of a worker with some post-secondary degree is $34.27. 

Rothwell said he's optimistic more Michiganders can get the education they need and start earning more, but if not,jobs will leave the state.

"The good-paying jobs are going to go where the talent is," he said. "There are a lot of places in the United States and around the world that have that talent and what we will see is our per-capita income continue to drop."

One of the first steps for Michigan is improving college-readiness,  according to Dan Hurley, CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities. He said Michigan needs to "upgrade every level of educational attainment."

"It shouldn't be this bifurcated narrative of you either stop at a high school diploma or go get a four-year college degree," he said.

Lacking tech-savviness isn't the only problem young adults have. 

Edythe Hatter-Williams is CEO of Capital Area Michigan Works!, which assists employers and employees in their hiring processes. She said she's encountered many young workers that even lack "soft-skills," such as how to communicate with an employer, showing up on time, and being proactive at work. 

She said those thinking they can get by with a low-skill, minimum wage job likely have more than one, and struggle to make ends meet. 

"If you don't consider going back to get either additional training ... or additional education, then you are ultimately going to be working four, or five, or six part time jobs," Hatter-Williams said.

She added that it'll help if K-12 students are exposed to more jobs early on so they have a better sense of what's out there, and what's required of them. 

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