State brainstorming ways to fill skilled trade jobs


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan’s unemployment rate has dropped to 4.2 percent, according to government statistics.

It’s a 17-year low and puts Michigan below the national average in one category where you actually want to score low. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t work to do when it comes to jobs.

Some analysts consider 4 percent unemployment full employment. But here in Michigan, there is more to the story.

“We kind of laser focused on talent. That is the number one issue in the state and in my opinion, you couldn’t talk about talent without talking about education,” Roger Curtis, the director of the Michigan Department of Talent and Economic Development, said.

Curtis’ job is to find ways to help connect businesses and employees to fill an estimated 97,000 jobs in the state. Part of the problem historically, he said, had been the propensity to push all students to a four-year degree.

“We as human beings love simple solutions — either-or. You’re going to go here or you’re going to do this, and we can’t do that anymore. That’s huge injustice to our kids,” he told 24 Hour News 8.

It is a marketing problem, he said — at least partially. He said parents and teachers, counselors and coaches need to make sure students know that options other than a four-year degree can lead them to a career.

Skilled trades offer opportunity, but tradesmen who were burned when the recession hit are hesitant to advise their children to go into such fields.

Curtis said that in Michigan, there are thousands of opportunities and they don’t have to be dead ends. Advanced degrees will be part of the future, but some two-year degrees and continuing education to adapt to changing needs in skilled trades can also make for great careers.

“I heard a great quote the other day,” Curtis said. “Technology has never moved as fast as it is right now in the history of mankind, nor will it move as slowly as it is right now in the history of humans.”

Curtis has teamed with the head of Michigan’s board of education, Brian Whiston, to come up with recommendations to help more students be aware of and prepared for the thousands of skilled trade jobs that exist now and will in the future. Those recommendations will be announced sometime next week.