Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 23, 2013

Snyder aims to connect Mich. students to jobs

ALANNA DURKIN
Associated Press

---- — EAST LANSING (AP) — Gov. Rick Snyder said Monday that Michigan’s education and business must do a better job of collaborating if the state wants to improve how it connects graduating students with available jobs.

The Republican governor gave the opening remarks at the 18th annual Governor’s Education Summit at Michigan State University’s Kellogg Center. He told education and business leaders that while the state’s education system is succeeding in providing knowledge, students often are left on their own when it comes to finding jobs.

“We’ve built a system that doesn’t work anymore,” Snyder said, adding that the result is an imbalance between the supply and demand for jobs.

Snyder said there are nearly 60,000 available jobs on the state’s job-search website, but the state’s unemployment rate remains more than 8 percent. He said if those jobs were filled, the state’s unemployment rate would drop 1.5 percentage points.

But Dale Belman, a professor at Michigan State University’s School of Human Resources and Labor Relations, said 60,000 is actually a consistent number of available jobs considering the state’s weak economy. As people are constantly switching jobs and retiring, about 3 percent of the total labor force is between jobs at any time.

That means 60,000 job openings in Michigan “is not exciting,” he said. If the job market were booming, there would probably be about 100,000 open jobs, he said.

About 650 members of the education and business community are participating in the day-long summit, which is intended to follow up on last month’s economic summit and includes breakout sessions on topics such as educator effectiveness and investing in early childhood education.

Snyder said students need to be exposed to available private sector opportunities at an early age, just as they learn about government through field trips to the state Capitol.

“We think it’s really important for them to understand government and civics and all those important things ... Why wouldn’t we have the same concept about starting to expose them to the private sector and about careers?” he said.

Snyder said students should learn things like how a car is made and how a bank runs, which can be accomplished by inviting business people into the classroom to talk about their profession.

State officials say there is currently a high demand for jobs like engineers, skilled trades and IT specialists.

“We just don’t have a really solid understanding of the demand that is out there for some of these professions,” said Michael Finney, president and CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, in a panel discussion following the governor’s remarks.

Others say the problem may not be caused by a lack of knowledge. “If we are talking about tech jobs, students understand the tech market better than we give them credit for,” said Joseph Guzman, an assistant professor at Michigan State University’s School of Human Resources and Labor Relations. “If there is a training gap, that needs to be addressed. It’s not just dissemination of information,” he said.

The state also needs to be doing more to enhance the image of skilled trade jobs, like welders and designers, to encourage students to pursue these professions, said Doug Rothwell, president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan.

“We need to start embracing the fact that these are terrific jobs for a lot of kids,” he said.

Meanwhile, a work group including Snyder’s chief information officer, David Behen, have been meeting behind closed doors to develop a lower-cost model for K-12 public education. The group’s aim, as first reported by the Detroit News Friday, is to create a “value school” that costs $5,000 per child each year to run.

The work group has been criticized by organizations including the Michigan Education Association, who called the behind-the-scenes work “disturbing and infuriating.” But Snyder said he personally has not had any part in the work group and doesn’t find it controversial that some members of his administration would brainstorm new ideas.

“I always encourage people to bring me ideas and be thoughtful,” he said. “They just need to understand that’s not an official state business or an official state position.”

Snyder said cities and states that learn how to better connect employees to jobs will have a “strategic advantage” in terms of economic growth and opportunities.

“No one is to blame here, but there is an opportunity to do even better by asking all of us to do a little bit more and to be little bit better at being partners with one another,” he said.

------

Follow Alanna Durkin on Twitter at https://twitter.com/aedurkin