UNIVERSITY CENTER, Mich. — Michigan needs a new approach to connecting people with employment and training, whether the jobseeker is a welfare recipient struggling with illiteracy or a laid-off worker who can't launch a business because she'd immediately lose her jobless benefits, Gov. Rick Snyder said Thursday.
Snyder, who unveiled his talent development plan to about 100 people at Delta College, said the state must rethink education, job training and economic development if it hopes to drastically lower an unemployment rate that has hovered in double digits for more than two years.
"Obviously, you can't fill every job, because there will always be openings," Snyder said. "But if you start saying, 'Can we cut that number in half?' that would drop the unemployment rate by a whole percentage point. And that's a lot of jobs and major improvement."
On education, the Republican governor wants community colleges, universities and trade schools to focus on areas that are in demand and stop "overproducing" graduates in areas where workers aren't needed in Michigan.
Snyder didn't specify which education programs are producing more graduates than are required, but said a 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."
The Michigan Education Association has estimated 5,000 of the 7,500 annual graduates of college education programs in Michigan go to jobs in other states, but the governor said he isn't trying to discourage anyone from pursuing those careers.
Snyder instead said it makes more sense for students to get degrees 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.
"They should be looking to where there are future opportunities," he said, adding it may make sense for the state to put more money into education and training programs for "critical skill areas."
Mike Boulus, executive director of the President's Council that represents the 15 state universities, said college administrators agree with the need to grant more degrees in math and science and give students the skills to compete in the global marketplace.
But he said he hopes the focus doesn't narrow down to just careers that are in demand at the moment, noting "the jobs of today may not be the jobs of tomorrow."
Snyder noted during his speech that a recent Georgetown University study estimated 62 percent of Michigan jobs will require a post-secondary credential, while only 35 percent of state residents currently hold one.
Boulus said the state has made it more difficult for residents to get a college degree by repeatedly cutting funding for higher education, a move he wants to see reversed in future budgets.
"We've done a decade of shared sacrifice," Boulus said. "It's time for more shared commitment."
To help students and workers find out information about careers, educational and training opportunities and job openings, Snyder launched the Pure Michigan Talent Connect website Thursday.
The site is intended to give employers and jobseekers a place to find each other and allow workers to assess their skills and connect with mentors and internships.
"It's a much better tool compared to simply saying, 'Here are open jobs,'" as traditional job sites do, he said.
Snyder said the state's universities attract a lot of foreign students who gain graduate degrees. He wants to keep more of those graduates in Michigan and 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 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, Snyder said.
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.
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.
Thursday's speech was the fifth in a series of policy addresses Snyder has given this year covering education, local government, health and infrastructure. He said he plans to give at least two similar addresses in 2012, one on energy and environment and one on public safety.
Pure Michigan Talent Connect: http://www.MiTalent.org
Gov. Rick Snyder: http://www.michigan.gov/snyder