Jobs are starting to emerge, but right skills needed to fill them

Guest Editorial
The debate is far from settled, but there is enough evidence to say the jobs picture in Michigan is starting to brighten. The county’s unemployment rate fell to 8.4 percent in October — the first time it has been that low since 2008 — while surveys in Michigan and nationally agree employers are preparing to add jobs next year. The healthy holiday shopping crowds should be further indication that a sustainable economic recovery has begun.

That might be the end of the story for now, except that there are efforts at the state level to give this recovering patient a shot of adrenaline.

In particular, the focus centers on resolving this riddle: If so many people are out of work, why are employers having a hard time finding people to fill some jobs?

The answer may lie in a speech Gov. Rick Snyder delivered Thursday. There aren’t enough people with the right skills for the jobs that are available.

Consider this from the Center for Michigan, which the governor’s office passed along: Michigan graduated 20 percent too few computer and math professionals to fill work force openings last year. And too few health-care professionals. And too few engineers.

The talent shortage extends across industries and into niche fields. It might not be surprising there are not enough nurses since health care is a fast-growing industry, but did you know there’s a shortage of welders?

Some of the remedies to this situation involve long-term reform. Education and career preparation for young students, college students and adults will be front and center. Snyder also has emphasized encouraging immigration for Michigan, to draw in professionals and entrepreneurs from other countries who are able to fill gaps in the work force.

His mix of ideas includes some near-term medicine. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. already has taken a larger role with Michigan Works to ensure job seekers are being trained for work that’s available, rather than merely promoting “soft skills” like resume writing.

The MEDC will kick off an effort next month to train computer programmers, Snyder said last week. The governor is pushing a few state agencies to help military veterans re-enter the work force. Michigan’s veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan had a 29 percent jobless rate in 2010, the governor’s office says. That is distressing.

Right now, the economic signs look good: Businesses are seeing demand for their products, and they are looking to hire.

That normally would be enough to spur on a rebound, but in the 21st-century economy the governor rightly has recognized that more has to be done. The state needs a long-term strategy to ensure that we produce the right talent to fill the positions that are being created.