2018-01-21 / Editorial

Bid to retain, attract talent crucial in 2018

In the depths of The Great Recession Lapeer County was running double-digit unemployment and was at times the highest in all of southeast and mid-Michigan. Thankfully, that has changed.

Currently the jobless rate hovers around 4 percent, a level most economists describe as full employment — the condition in which virtually all who are able and willing to work are employed.

An improved economy, however, has resulted in a shortage of talented workers necessary to operate equipment and design tomorrow’s break-through technology. Generally speaking, the best-prepared companies are the ones that used the economic recovery of the past eight years to invest — in people, technology and equipment — before the next slowdown causes companies to pull back. Employers in Lapeer County and Michigan are dealing with another issue in 2018 — an aging workforce.

Ask many shop managers and they have another concern. There’s a skills gap between what employers need and what job candidates know how to do, an additional pressure on local employers. Dozens of companies in Lapeer County struggle to fill many good-paying jobs including welders, CAD operators and engineers.

Lapeer County employers are competing for good people in a state that has diversified its economy since 2006. Excluding government, manufacturing was the second-largest industry by number of employees that year after trade, transportation and utilities, according to data from the Michigan Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives.

By 2016, education and health services and professional and business services sectors had surpassed manufacturing, according to the state. This change has put a further squeeze on people and talent that may have exited manufacturing for other career paths.

In an effort to bolster the labor market in the I-69 Thumb Region, a free talent forum will be held Wednesday afternoon at the Lapeer Country Club. The forum will tackle workforce supply factors including unemployment, underemployment, out-county commute and impending retirements.

The talent crunch is real and is being felt throughout the state. Amazon reached out to Detroit leaders Thursday to say that an insufficient talent pool in the region was the main reason why Detroit didn’t make Amazon’s shortlist of finalists for its second headquarters.

Currently, the percentage of the working-age population (ages 15 and up) in the I-69 Thumb Region stands at 56.6 percent, according to an analysis of 2017 employment data by EMSI. The statewide average for labor force participation is 60.1 percent, and there are several areas of the state have rates that are almost 10 percent higher than the I-69 Thumb region.

Patricia Lucas, executive director of the Lapeer Development Corporation, wants to connect more workers to good paying jobs that are available in our region. There are open positions in the skilled trades, supervision, and technician levels in various industries. Jody Kerbyson, CEO of GST Michigan Works!, is excited about the forum because input from the local employer sector is crucial to understanding the challenges of regional and increasingly-competitive labor market.

This week’s talent forum has implications for today’s youth as well. Students are often unaware of, and don’t always have access to, the multiple pathways that lead to rewarding and good-paying jobs. We have a talent issue and we can — and must — do more to fix it.

Michigan is bursting at the seams with diverse career opportunities. The professional trades alone will account for more than 500,000 jobs in our state’s economy by 2024, adding 15,000 new jobs each year during that time.

Coupled with state government involvement, including the Michigan Career Pathways Alliance, local officials expected to gather this week at the forum are working to retain and attract talent. We applaud the collaborative approach and look forward to reporting this important story throughout 2018.

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