2017-09-03 / Insight

Employers turn attention toward better, not bigger, labor force

BY ANDREW DIETDERICH
810-452-2609 • adietderich@mihomepaper.com


Linda Liscom sorts parts Aug. 2 at Imlay City Molded Products (ICMP) Corp., 593 S. Cedar St. The company, like many in the Lapeer area, expects to continue growing in 2017. 
Photo by Andrew Dietderich Linda Liscom sorts parts Aug. 2 at Imlay City Molded Products (ICMP) Corp., 593 S. Cedar St. The company, like many in the Lapeer area, expects to continue growing in 2017. Photo by Andrew Dietderich LAPEER — With state and local unemployment figures hovering around levels not experienced since 2000, employers are turning their attention to quality over quantity when it comes to today’s labor force.

That’s according to Jessica Billiau, director of communications, GST Michigan Works!, a Flint-based agency whose service area includes Lapeer County.

“A lot of what employers are looking to do now is what we have started to call ‘build your own workforce,’” Billiau told The County Press. “There’s a lot more emphasis on hands-on training, and on-the-job training.”

By example, Billiau pointed to a large initiative GST Michigan Works! has underway that is focused on apprenticeships.

“That’s working with businesses across our area to determine if they are interested in developing (U.S. Dept. of Labor) Registered Apprenticeships,” Billiau said, adding that the program is about “creating a pipeline for individuals that are coming in maybe at a more entry level skillset, but being trained specifically for what the business needs are.”

According to its website, “GST Michigan Works! is one of 16 Michigan Works! agencies across the state of Michigan operating workforce development programs designed to assist employers in finding skilled workers and job seekers prepare for, find and retain employment.”

The organization is governed by a Board of Commissioners representing Genesee, Huron, Lapeer, Sanilac, Shiawassee and Tuscola counties. In addition to the governing board, a separate region-wide Workforce Development Board (WDB) made up of 21 members, leads the vision and planning decisions of the organization.

GST Michigan Works! offers a region-wide team of employer focused “Business Solutions Professionals” available in all six counties to serve the needs of business. Additionally, GST offers a variety of employment services facilitated by an experienced staff of career counselors, employment specialists, and a diverse network of partners offering a host of education, training and development resources.

The organization, Billiau says, is able to spend more time these days on such training, because it isn’t as busy trying to help people find employment in what she identifies as a “tight job market.”

“Right now, because the jobs are so in demand, and the need is so great, we’re fortunate to have a lot of employer programs that are available,” she said.

According to the Michigan Dept. of Technology, Management & Budget (DTMB), Michigan’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in July inched down over the month by one-tenth of a percentage point to 3.7 percent.

In July, Lapeer County’s jobless rate was 4.8 percent, up from 4.2 percent the month prior.

The county had a civilian workforce of 41,013 with 39,032 people employed, and 1,981 unemployed.

“Since December 2010, Michigan’s double-digit unemployment rate has fallen significantly while our economy has continued its tremendous comeback,” said Gov. Rick Snyder in a recent release. “There is always more we can do because we still have a disconnect, with people needing jobs and job providers needing skilled workers. Our increased emphasis on educating children and adults with the right career skills is vital. We need to close the talent gap and prepare every Michigander for a rewarding career that can lead to a prosperous future.”

Total employment declined in July by 18,000 while the number of unemployed in Michigan was also down over the month, decreasing by 7,000. The net result was a third consecutive month of workforce reduction in the state.

The Michigan jobless rate in July 2017 was one and two-tenths percentage points below the state’s July 2016 rate of 4.9 percent. The national jobless rate declined by six-tenths of a percentage point over this period. The state’s unemployment rate in July was six-tenths of a percentage point below the national rate. The U.S. jobless rate edged down by one-tenth of a percentage point to 4.3 percent in July.

Consider a few other highlights from DTMB’s most recent analysis of the state’s current labor market:

Michigan’s monthly jobless rates in mid-2017 have been the lowest recorded since midyear 2000. However, Michigan’s current labor force and employment totals are well below those in 2000. Since July 2000, both the state’s workforce and total employment levels fell by over 300,000.

• Although not close to 2000 levels, the state’s 2017 year to date seven-month average employment count of 4,665,000 was the highest level recorded in Michigan since 2007. Total employment has advanced every year since 2010 in the state.

• Michigan’s workforce level in July decreased for the third consecutive month after reaching an eight-year peak in April.

The number of unemployed in the state has declined for five consecutive months since February. Since July 2016, the number of unemployed in Michigan dropped by 55,000 or 23.4 percent.

As Billiau points out, the state continues investing in its workforce, too.

Next year’s budget includes $26 million for the Michigan Workforce Development Agency’s Skilled Trades Training Fund.

The Skilled Trades Training Fund (STTF) awards grants to employers to assist in training, developing and retaining current employees and individuals to be hired. According to its website, “Training is customized to meet employee skill requirements and is short-term in duration, preferably less than three months, with no training extending more than six months.”

The fund has doled out more than 1,400 grants since 2014, averaging about $34,000 per award.

“We, as a Michigan Works! agency, are a facilitator of that grant process” Billiau said.

As she explained, businesses identify what their training needs are and apply for help.

“That grant is about to open in the next couple of weeks,” she said.

For the rest of 2017, Billiau said she expects to “continue to see a great need for workers across all industries.”

“We’re going to continue to see demand right up until the new year,” she said. “Nothing really shows any signs of that slowing down.”

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