Jobs but not enough workers again

I need to figure out how often to post this basic story. Because it is going to appear regularly in the press across the state, probably for years, mainly in our big metros. The reason to write about it a lot is that no one believes it. The dominant story is that there are no jobs here. So people are leaving Michigan. And you know the mantra: there are not enough jobs because we are a high tax, strong union state. The problem with that dominant story is that when it comes to high skill jobs it is wrong!

This time the news relates to the IT industry in metro Lansing. In a terrific article entitled “Fast-growing IT sector struggles to find qualified applicants” the Lansing State Journal details the job shortages at fast growing Liquid Web and other Lansing area IT companies. Because they can’t find enough workers in Lansing, Liquid Web has opened an office in Scottsdale, Arizona. Yes that is right: the company moving to where the workers are, not the other way around.

So here is the correct basic story. Even with double digit unemployment here, in skilled occupations Michigan has more jobs than workers. And the shortage is going to increase as the economy expands. In low skill occupations we have more workers than jobs. And that too is not going away anytime soon. As a country we are moving to an economy where 30-35% of the jobs are going to require four-year degree type skills and only 28% of Americans have a four-year degree. In Michigan it is 24.5%. There will also be shortages in technical occupations requiring the equivalent of a two-year degree or occupational certificate in some occupations.

Part of Michigan’s challenge is not enough of us get degrees. But another part is that too many who get degrees here move away after college and we do not do very well in attracting talent from elsewhere. Given the labor shortages, it is clear that it is more than just no jobs that are causing the net out migration of talent. And when companies can’t find enough workers, they leave.

Why this matters so much is most of the job growth in America has been, is, and will continue to be centered in knowledge-based enterprises. Those that require the highest proportion of high skill workers. So for Michigan to grow its economy and its income we need to focus on what matters most to the high wage, growing sector of the American economy. And that is talent. Since those jobs are concentrating across the country in big metros we need to particularly pay attention to metro Detroit, Grand Rapids and Lansing. If they don’t work the state cannot be prosperous.

Our presentation tag line is We need to get younger and better educated or we get poorer. We had better learn that lesson. If we don’t make preparing, retaining and attracting talent the priority we are going to continue to lag the country.

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Lou Glazer

Lou Glazer is President and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Lets see, i will be graduating with a MS in Industrial Engineering, although that’s the official name for the program, my minor is Information Systems Engineering and I have a minor in Human Factors Engineering.

    I have participated in pad research projects (Assistantship) where I developed prototypes to automatically collect traffic data from vehicles.
    I have programmed RFID and wireless bar code scanners
    I know about statistics and Lean Manufacturing

    And I cannot find a job because all entry level jobs and even some internships require previous experience. Not even bothering to try to get an entry level job, all of them ask for minimum 3 years of experience.

    Bottom line a degree is worthless because companies are totally unwilling to train anyone, the entry level job market has closed its doors and that’s bad news for every recent grad

  2. In my previous comment, I stated, “I came across a 2010 application for an H-1B visa that was for a Web developer position in the state of New Jersey – a high tax, high cost-of-living state. The application was approved by the US Dept. of Labor and the salary was $32,000.00 – below the national average. This article doesn’t pass the stink test.”

    Even more relevant – I came across the same type of application for a programmer/analyst position in Ann Arbor, MI that was approved by the DOL for an annual salary of $32,677.00 – still well below the national average. I reiterate – this article smells funny.

  3. I have worked in the IT Industry for almost thirteen years in Michigan. I lost my job as a Network Admin to outsourcing in 2007. Previously before five years as an admin, I was a contractor. I still keep in contact with many of the people I worked contracts with and here is my job finding experiences for you to dwell on.

    First, three of the companies I contracted for are no longer here in Michigan. One, Pfizer was demolished and only a grass field is in view where once many well paid people worked in different three story buildings.

    Second, two of my friends moved to California after working a long term contract and there were other jobs around to take. I have another friend who I consider to be one of the smartest techs I know, this guy has a Computer Science Degree and moved to the East side of the state after not having luck here in West MI. Another friend went back to school for his masters after not finding a job with his BA in CS, and this is with twenty plus years experience.

    I have another friend with high level admin\network certs, along with being MENSA Certified and he would like to find another job but has not been able to find anything that doesn’t take a big pay hit.

    I have sent resumes out and most of the time I don’t even hear back from employers. One job I was feeling pretty good about, the person in charge made a big point that the job paid a lot less than my previous job and he was concerned that I would leave if I found another job.

    I have been very flexible in the type of jobs and pay I want. I am willing to take my pay cut in half, but employers don’t get this. Many of the jobs I see want a candidate who has very specific experience only to that company or industry. It’s almost as if in some cases the only person who could get a job is someone who left the company in that specific position.

    Right now I’m seeing a lot of jobs for truck drivers. If I could find a job driving truck that let’s me see my family and sleep in my own bed, I will get a CDL. I am also open to a complete career change.

    So when I read the above article that Michigan needs more IT workers I laugh. Well at least I’ll have my student loan paid off in three years, when I’m 43.

    1. It doesn’t matter to the larger point you were making, but the Ann Arbor Pfizer facility is anything but a grass field. It is the site of a more than a billion dollar investment by the University of Michigan in life sciences research. I think the projections are when fully operational it will employ more than Pfizer did.

      To your larger point that there are folks like you unemployed with degrees in areas where there are jobs, in fact likely to be job shortages. Almost for sure both are true. And clearly some jobs, even those that require college degrees, pay less than they did before the Great Recession. But neither of these trends are Michigan problems, they are national, probably global. Part of it is, as you point out, employers have a long list of specific capabilities they are looking for that eliminate most candidates. Even though those candidates could develop those specific skills over time. And there clearly is downward wage pressure on most jobs except those with big labor shortages or demanding very high/specialized skills. Labor markets at the moment are clearly tilted to the advantage of employers not workers.

      Other than more global growth, which would help, how we reverse those trends is not clear. But the solution needs to be global. And it almost certainly will involve more, not less, government action. It is not something that can be solved in Michigan or is uniquely our problem because our politics, or whatever, are screwed up. And even with these trends it is also true that the people with college degrees are employed more and earn higher wages than those without. And that the places doing best – lower unemployment, higher incomes – are those with the highest proportion of adults with a four year degree.

      1. One more item: student loans. A college degree is a lifetime investment. It builds skills that pay off over forty years, not just the first job or two. And over a career Brookings found (I did a previous post on this) the payoff is far greater than owning a home, stocks or bonds. We buy homes with 30 year mortgages and don’t expect – except in the bubble years – an immediate return on our investment. Why do we impose that requirement on students loans? Should state government stop disinvesting in higher education which is a leading cause of higher tuition, absolutely. And should we structure student loans so they can be paid off over a longer time period, absolutely too. But even without those changes, if you get a degree, college is still a terrific investment.

      2. I sent your comment to Amy Cell who runs what is called talent enhancement for the MEDC. She is the person in state government working most on connecting talent to Michigan jobs. My questions to her was what advice would she give you and others looking for IT jobs. Here is what she wrote: is our job seeker assistance site which is the central site for our job connection system, career fairs, job seeker programs, career development resources, etc. There are a thousands of great jobs available and more coming in every day. Also, we have many enhancements to the content and the job portal that are in the works and will be rolled out over the coming months. He should also sign up for our job seeker newsletter to get announcements on career fairs, virtual career fairs, “hot” employers, etc. Lastly, I can get his name on our list for IT professionals that might consider a “Shifting Code” program to get a quick course in a “high demand” programming code and connections directly to employers that has been going well. Thanks for the opportunity to mention a few resources.

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