Michigan Governor Unveils New Initiative to Remake Workforce

Governor Rick Snyder wants to tie retraining programs to companies' needs, erase barriers keeping welfare recipients from work and encourage more Michigan residents to earn math and science degrees under an initiative aimed at making workers more competitive in the global marketplace.

Governor Rick Snyder wants to tie retraining programs to companies' needs, erase barriers keeping welfare recipients from work and encourage more Michigan residents to earn math and science degrees under an initiative aimed at making workers more competitive in the global marketplace.

He unveiled his talent development plan Thursday at Delta College, the fifth in a series of policy addresses this year that have covered education, local government, health and infrastructure.

Noting that Michigan has "thousands of jobs" that remain empty because Michigan workers don't have the education or skills to fill them, Snyder said the state must drastically realign its education, job training and economic development systems. Only then will the state be able to drastically lower an unemployment rate that has hovered in double digits for more than two years.

"The solution is to reinvent the way in which we prepare our children for successful, fulfilling careers; reshape the manner in which Michiganders look for work; and redesign the way in which employers obtain the skills they need," Snyder noted in his speech. "The simple truth is that tomorrow's opportunities cannot be realized with yesterday's skills."

On education, the Republican governor wants to concentrate state money for post-secondary education in areas that are in demand and stop "overproducing" graduates in areas where workers aren't needed in Michigan. Snyder said that the current imbalance "creates a population of young talent that cannot find work in Michigan, is saddled with debt and is ultimately forced to leave the state."

He didn't specify which education programs are producing more graduates than are required for the state.

The Michigan Education Association has estimated that 5,000 of the 7,500 annual graduates of college education programs in Michigan leave the state. The governor wants more people to get trained in computer programming, math, health care and engineering -- all areas where the state isn't producing enough graduates to fill the need, according to the Center for Michigan.

He also wants more people to engage in training for trades such as welding and manufacturing.

Saying that the state needs to keep more highly educated foreign workers in Michigan, Snyder plans to work with the state's congressional delegation to permanently raise the cap for new temporary work visas for immigrant professionals and eliminate the cap for those holding a master's degree or higher from U.S. universities.

To help retain talent, the governor wants to change the unemployment system so that struggling businesses can reduce their employees' hours and supplement their pay with partial unemployment benefits. The change would let employers hold onto highly skilled workers who otherwise might leave the state to work elsewhere and enable workers keep their jobs and fringe benefits. Twenty-two other states have work-sharing programs, said Snyder.

The governor also wants lawmakers to approve self-employment assistance that would give benefits to unemployed workers who are setting up their own businesses rather than requiring them to pursue job opportunities in order to qualify. The budding entrepreneurs would receive training at regional Small Business Technology Development Centers.

To help students and workers find out information about careers, educational and training opportunities and job openings, Snyder Thursday launched the Pure Michigan Talent Connect website. As it's developed further over the next six months, the site is intended to give employers and job seekers a place to find each other and allow workers to assess their skills and connect with mentors and internships.

Snyder said he plans to eliminate the barriers that make it difficult for welfare recipients to find meaningful work, including lack of skills, illiteracy, scarce access to child care and insufficient transportation. He's requiring that the current Jobs, Education and Training program for welfare recipients be redesigned to help families find ongoing and sustainable work and increase the recipients' work participation rates from 27 percent to the 50 percent required by the federal government so Michigan won't continue to be slapped with hefty fines for noncompliance.

"We have been a failure in many respects with the JET program," he said. "We need to do a much better job."

The governor also is asking employers to hire more military veterans and directing state offices to create a "seamless delivery system" for veteran benefits and employment services so the nearly 30 percent unemployment rate of those returning to Michigan from Afghanistan and Iraq can be lowered.

He hopes to expand efforts to let Michigan natives living out of state know about job openings in Michigan and lure more of them to return.

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