Friday, April 25, 2014

Tech jobs: precariously balancing the education bubble and the employment bust

As mentioned before, the current employment situation in Michigan is complicated, both for young people and members of older generations. The University of Michigan's index of consumer confidence revealed higher than expected sentiment for April, but it remains to be seen whether this will be part of an overall trend or will follow the more common pattern of surge/slump.

Regardless, for workers trying to examine future trends - and parents of future workers - there seems to be some good news as regards manufacturing. The Michigan Legislature recently created the Skilled Trades Training Fund in order to ensure the education and development of a steady supply of skilled labor for our manufacturing sector.  According to the state's Workforce Development Agency website: "The STTF will provide competitive awards for the development and implementation of employer responsive training that will enhance talent incomes, productivity, and employment retention, while increasing the quality and competitiveness of Michigan's business." This fund will be used for technical training only, encourages the participation of manufacturing companies, and offers reimbursement incentives for employee retainment.

West Michigan manufacturing companies seeking to avoid a shortage of labor and turnover have also taken some of the training process into their own hands. Pridgeon & Clay, a Grand Rapids metal stamping company known for their manufacture of automotive parts has begun communicating with school districts and community colleges and has established an in-house training program to make sure their supply of skilled workers is not interrupted.  DeWys Manufacturing, Inc. also has created a 12-week training program to help maintain an active workforce at all times.

Other manufacturers are playing the long game. At a conference in Houston last month, Jim Fetterling, one of Dow Chemicals vice presidents, discussed the potential waves of economic revitalization resulting from the country's recent shale boom. The energy savings from cheaper, more plentiful natural gas offers new possibilities to U.S. companies. He believes that this new shale boom should not be squandered on exports, but used to rebuild the manufacturing sector and create jobs. Many of those new jobs will be skilled and Fitterling sees the fourth wave of the economic revitalization will be focused on research and development.

After what we Michiganders have seen happen to the auto industry over the past twenty years, it's hard to feel confidence about manufacturing, but the outlook for skilled workers, at least, is brighter. If you have a friend or family member graduating from high school in the next few years and considering college, direct them either to the STEM fields or skilled labor. That's where the future lies.