Dustin Walsh| Crain’s Detroit Business
The Southeast Michigan jobs market is rebounding, but an aging workforce and skills gap continue to plague employers in need, according to a report released Monday by the Workforce Intelligence Network.
The Detroit-based coalition, which works with eight local community colleges, seven MichiganWorks agencies and economic development agencies, is urging employers and agencies to work together to rectify the shortfall.
In 2012, key growth employment sectors struggled to fill jobs, according to the WIN report, “Working Smarter; Understanding jobs and talent in Southeast Michigan.” The region has a supply-and-demand disconnect, especially in job segments such as health care, information technology and manufacturing.
The report is exemplified by the day-to-day struggles companies have to fill positions.
Gov. Rick Snyder said the issue stems from a growth in technology, specialization in the workforce and the inability to translate that to the education system.
“If you go back, when I was coming out of school, you could be a generalist. There were lots of jobs and employers would take people without specialized training,” he said. “Now, I don’t think the educational sector was able to recognize the change … as a society we sort of missed the boat.”
Snyder said needs are forcing employers to be more open about their challenges in hiring and that educators, government and the private sector need to work together to share information for a better system. The state is also hosting an invitation-only talent summit March 18-19.
Hot jobs segments
The health care industry, which overtook manufacturing as the largest employer in Michigan following the recent automotive industry collapse, had 29,800 available jobs in 2012 — or one job posting for every 10 employed in the industry, according to the WIN report.
Registered nurses, physical therapists and licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses are most in demand in health care.
Thanks to the resurgence of the automotive industry, the need for skilled trades workers and engineers is on the rise, up 94 percent and 103 percent since 2007, respectively, according to the WIN report.
In 2012, there were 41,500 job openings in manufacturing. Mechanical and electronics engineers are the most needed jobs in the industry, with a median wage of $43.12 per hour and $39.81 per hour, respectively.
But it’s information technology that’s seen the largest boom in Southeast Michigan. There were 40,400 job postings in 2012. That’s more than half the amount of workers in the industry in Southeast Michigan at 72,000.
“We haven’t seen this big upsurge in jobs yet, but we’re seeing an unprecedented demand for IT workers,” said Lisa Katz, executive director of WIN. “We really need to look at this demand and see what this means for our talent sector and whether we can support it.”
The top demand in local IT is for applications software engineers, computer programmers and computer systems analysts, according to the study.
Katz said the region’s skills gap is the pin to burst the growth bubble, unless action is taken.
Cause and effect
WIN attributes the skills gap to educational shortfalls and an aging workforce. Due to the economic downturn, aging workers stayed in their jobs longer, which likely exacerbated skills shortages, the report said.
“There are warning signs from our aging population,” Katz said. “Those who are working haven’t left the workforce, leaving young people with less employment experience, and as we’re hitting a job growth, our young people aren’t prepared to replace the outgoing workforce.”
Stephen Spurr, an economist at Wayne State University, said the sectors in demand demonstrate the region’s need to refocus the education system on math and science skills.
“A lot of college graduates used to become lawyers if they weren’t oriented in math or science, but the law industry has seen such a contraction,” Spurr said. “That’s affected a lot of career choices, so the more beefing up we can do in the education system here for the jobs that are out there, the better we are serving our students.”
The declining labor force is also to blame for difficulty in filling openings, the study said. Michigan’s labor pool declined by approximately 200,000 people over the past 10 years, due to economic upheaval.
Romeo-based Mac-Mold Inc. continues to struggle for skilled laborers as orders rise, thanks to the automotive resurgence, said Dave Gifford, purchasing manager. He said the older generation of workers at the 30-person shop is readying for retirement, but there are not enough skilled workers to replace them.
“There are no middle-ground workers; when the training dried up, people went into other fields,” he said. “The younger workers who are not college-bound are not receiving the training that high schools used to offer as many have cut back on manufacturing programs due to the economy and interest.”
But Katz said there are steps to right the ship and orchestrate a collective comeback for the region’s jobs market — and it starts with cooperation. WIN is already working with area human resources executives in the health care industry to share real-time data, Katz said.
“Demand is so high and if we don’t address it, it’s going to undermine our economic recovery.”