Michigan: A model of cooperation in building a high-quality workforce 

The collaboration between industry, government and higher education in Michigan balances the needs of businesses, workers and job seekers.

The U.S. labor market is off-kilter in more ways than one.

The labor market is tight, with nearly two job openings for each unemployed worker as of December. At the same time, surveys show that employers face a growing skills gap.

Michigan is rising to the challenges in the labor market by building a strong and equitable talent pipeline defined by integrity, grit and a culture of innovation. The state’s industry leaders, educational institutions and government partners have come together to address skills shortages and increase the talent pools critical to the state’s future. 

The talent gap is becoming more visible as technologies and business models continue their rapid evolution — something we are experiencing in the mobility industry in Michigan. The transition to electric vehicles (EVs) is generating demand for software developers and engineers. The opening of new battery manufacturing facilities also will result in a variety of new jobs, including assemblers with electronics skills. 

As the number of EVs on the road increases, so too will demand for charging infrastructure, both in the home and the publicly available network. Several occupations are in demand to deploy and support residential and nonresidential EV chargers, including electricians, urban planners, electrical power-line installers and construction laborers. 

Michigan has mobilized a multistakeholder community to create workforce development strategies that directly address these talent needs. Each stakeholder plays a critical role in finding, funding and implementing solutions to better attract, retain and cultivate the talent critical to growing the state’s economy — whether that’s providing hands-on experience to engineering students or upskilling factory employees to work with advanced manufacturing technologies such as robotics and 3D printing. The collaboration between industry, government and higher education in our state is a model of cooperation to find answers that balance the needs of businesses, workers and job seekers.

Michigan’s workforce is a top reason businesses locate and expand in the state. The state has more engineers per capita than any other, thanks to being the auto capital of the world. Combine the engineering capabilities with our skilled trades workforce and Michigan is positioned to lead the world into the next generation of technology. 

At the forefront of our mobility evolution is the state’s University Research Corridor (URC) — an alliance of Michigan State University, the University of Michigan (U-M) and Wayne State University. URC institutions are committed to helping secure Michigan’s leading edge in technology by cultivating a tech-savvy workforce with cutting-edge skills. In 2019 and 2020, they prepared nearly 15,000 graduates for careers in the mobility industry each year, more than the nation’s top university innovation clusters in California, Texas and Massachusetts. 

Through public-private partnerships, businesses work closely with URC institutions to conduct research and development to support innovation. Ford Motor Company, for example, worked with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) to establish the U-M Battery Lab, a full-service, 9,000-square-foot facility where academic and industrial users can prototype, test and analyze batteries and their materials. Ford also partnered with the U-M Department of Robotics to build a $75 million complex housing classrooms and labs that opened in 2021.

The higher education partnerships extend beyond URC institutions and our urban hubs. In Michigan’s rural Upper Peninsula, for instance, Michigan Technological University and nearby printed circuit boards maker Calumet Electronics are partnering to bring hands-on manufacturing experience to engineering students. To effectively compete in today’s economy and attract businesses to the state, we are working to increase the availability of skilled labor across Michigan. To close skills gaps, we are providing training and educational opportunities for all residents, no matter where they live.

Today’s jobs demand more skills and training than they once did. Digital transformation, for instance, is driving demand for computer science degrees, and Michigan is on its way to being a top-five state for production of four-year degrees in this field. State leaders are doing their part to build a high-quality workforce. In her 2024 budget, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has proposed a 4 percent across-the-board increase in operational funding for university and community college operations, as well as $200 million to improve existing facilities, infrastructure and technology. 

The recommendations also include significant investments to lower the costs of attending college and improve student wellness resources on campuses. The additional funding would build on last year’s bipartisan investment in higher education — the largest in more than two decades — and highlights the important role Michigan’s colleges and universities play in talent development and economic growth.

The second leg of Michigan’s collaborative approach to workforce development is focused on expanding access and delivery of mid-career reskilling and upskilling in line with emerging skills demand, ensuring that such efforts by workers are rewarded with adequate job opportunities. Michigan assists businesses with training and development through programs such as the Going PRO Talent Fund, which makes awards to employers to assist in training, developing and retaining current and newly hired employees. Since the program’s launch in 2014, more than 6,000 businesses have received awards that have supported about 170,000 workers with industry-aligned technical training.

One of the things we’ve heard from businesses is the need for better coordination in matching job seekers to available employment and training opportunities. That is why MEDC and our robust network of employer and education partners have launched the Talent Action Team to help job seekers find employment in industries vital to the state’s future: mobility and semiconductors.

To get started, the team is borrowing successful tactics from recruiters. We are building a talent pool by having people looking for work fill out a brief questionnaire. This will help determine whether job seekers are qualified for available positions or need additional training to get the certifications and skills needed for employment.

The issues facing the labor market today are significant but not insurmountable. By being proactive and intentional in our workforce development, Michigan is committed to helping its residents prosper in a rapidly changing economy and innovating solutions to support businesses across the state. The collective impact and collaborative problem solving also are vital to the state’s economic development efforts because the availability of skilled labor is a key factor in site selection decisions. By working together, we are investing in communities, closing skills gaps and meeting industry needs to continue leading the globe on mobility for the next 100 years.