Officials push to close talent gap: Career ed part of state goal

LANSING — To eliminate what is described as a Michigan talent gap, officials are working to improve career path education and future planning.

With that in mind, Gov. Rick Snyder designated December as Career Exploration and Awareness Month.

“We just want them to be armed with all the data to make an educated decision on what they want to do and where they want to go,” said Director of Michigan Department of Talent and Economic Development (TED) Roger Curtis.

At the moment, Michigan has thousands of unfilled jobs in skilled trades and other high paying careers, hence the concept of a talent gap. The new push will work to encourage early career exploration and provide more tools for Michigan students.

“The talent gap that we have in the state; a huge piece of that is a career awareness gap and as I’ve traveled the state and as I’ve spent a lot of time in the U.P., we’re just hearing that kids aren’t exposed to or don’t have the time to explore career pathways that they think they might be interested in and so you end up with a lot of kids coming out of high school who don’t really know what they want to do and unfortunately you have a lot of college kids coming out of school not knowing what they want to do,” Curtis explained.

“We’ve been pushing our kids to go get a college degree without the afterthought of what comes next…We have found that in the state of Michigan in particular there are a tremendous number of high demand, high wage jobs that require less than a four-year degree to start,” Curtis said. In the U.P. he sees a large demand for information technology (IT) jobs in particular, with many cutting edge businesses and projects in need of qualified employees.

He calls these careers “the four food groups of the talent gap”: IT, healthcare, construction and advanced manufacturing. Others include hospitality and culinary careers. Many of the available jobs in this group don’t require a four year degree, but can earn high salaries after trade school, apprenticeships, licensing, certification and more.  

As Curtis sees it, this isn’t a matter of, “college isn’t for everyone,” but instead the idea that college might not be the best path at this point in people’s careers. After all, many businesses will pay for employee’s higher education.

Instead of thinking of a career ladder, the idea is to have a “career lattice,” with more freedom to branch out and grow in new directions adapting to move forward. A professional trade could be one root on the way.  

“You can go at your own speed in any different direction back and forth,” Curtis said.

Among the potential resources are, Pathfinders, the Michigan Career Pathways Alliance for employers and educators as well as One goal is to improve the training of educators and school counselors providing more support.

Additionally, these resources aren’t just for students or those considering a professional trade.

The Pathfinders program is free to everyone, adult or student. The idea is to make exploring potential careers simple.

“It’s an amazing tool, the state populates it with constantly updating real time data on all the jobs and careers in Michigan,” Curtis said. Users can find out everything on a given field: education, cost, entry- and later-level pay and more.

“You can really do a return on investment analysis…and you really can start to make some educated decisions,” Curtis said.