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Posted on Thu, Mar 29, 2012 : 2:55 p.m.

Michael Finney: Solving Michigan's 'talent disconnect' is critical to state's growth

By Lizzy Alfs


University of Michigan economist George Fulton (left) and Michigan Economic Development Corp. CEO Michael Finney speak at the Washtenaw Economic Outlook Luncheon hosted by's Business Review and the Washtenaw Economic Club.

Angela J. Cesere |

(Related story: Exclusive economic forecast: Ann Arbor area to add 11,000 jobs over 3-year stretch)

Michigan needs to provide workers with the skills they need to match the state’s 76,000 available job openings -- and that might start with the state’s K-12 education system.

That’s a key message from Michigan Economic Development Corp. CEO Michael Finney, who outlined some of the state’s goals Thursday afternoon at the Washtenaw Economic Outlook Luncheon hosted by the Washtenaw Economic Club and’s Business Review.

Finney, a former CEO of economic development group Ann Arbor SPARK, said he’s “confident and excited” about a Washtenaw County economic forecast released today from University of Michigan economists, which projects more than 11,000 new jobs for the county in 2012, 2013 and 2014. But Finney said there is still a lot of work to do to train the state’s youth and keep talent here.

He said there’s a “talent disconnect” where job openings are going unfilled because workers don’t have the necessary skills to fill them.

The problem, he says, stems partly from the state’s K-12 education system and community colleges, rather than the state’s universities.

“We simply are not getting the kind of basic education that our kids need,” he said.

He added: “When I was in high school, you had a choice of two educational tracks you could get on: a tradesperson and college prep. We’ve gotten away from that as a country and a state and maybe it’s time for us to reconsider vocational education as a serious way for some of our young people to build a future for themselves.”

Finney said it’s then critical to keep the talent in the state - something the MEDC has worked to do with programs like Shifting Gears, which provides retraining to big-company workers.

“We’ll continue to spend a lot of our time and effort on solving this,” he said.

Finney said a proposed new MEDC program called Community Ventures could help provide opportunities to the structurally unemployed. That program would aim to connect convicted criminals, veterans or people with circumstances that make it difficult to go to work on a daily basis to learn new skills.

“We are designing a program that will actually create real jobs that are living wage jobs for people who fit this definition,” he said. “We found employers that are willing to make jobs available and organizations that are ready, willing and able to provide the kinds of services necessary.”

Finney said another way to help Michigan’s economy could involve encouraging immigrants with an advanced education and high-tech skills to move to and invest in Michigan.

George Fulton, one of two University of Michigan economists who conducted the forecast, said he considers this essential as the state faces a potential labor shortage in the coming years.

“We’re looking at a very significant labor shortage problem down the road and the question is, where do you get workers?” he said. “I think a strategy of being friendly to international migrants is really going to pay off down the road.”

Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for Reach her at 734-623-2584 or email her at Follow her on Twitter at


Debbie Gillespie

Fri, Mar 30, 2012 : 8 p.m.

Mr. Finney says that the talent disconnect problem stems partly from community colleges? Where is the support for this comment? Community colleges are far more flexible and accommodating than 4-year schools in addressing the needs of the emerging and incumbent workforce. Michigan's community colleges are leading the way to talent disconnect solutions, not contributing to the problem.


Fri, Mar 30, 2012 : 12:32 p.m.

"When I was in high school, you had a choice of two educational tracks you could get on: a tradesperson and college prep. We've gotten away from that as a country and a state and maybe it's time for us to reconsider vocational education as a serious way for some of our young people to build a future for themselves." This is a significant part of the answer for a certain segment of our society. Our community colleges already have solid vocational training in place. Expand the existing K-12/ community college partnership that allow high school students to take part in these programs while still attending high school and they will walk out of school and directly into a career.


Fri, Mar 30, 2012 : 3:52 a.m.

If you want to stop the disconnect, it is simple. Start seriously hiring the people over 45 who are 99 weekers. We have tens of thousands of highly skilled people who cannot get jobs in this state. 2/3 of my friends have someone in their household with a Master's degree or better in a technical subject and no job. All of them are 45+ and have been out of work for more than 99 weeks. Need experts? Need solid performers? Need people who know how to get stuff done? These are the people who can. So long as age and employment status is an issue when looking to hire someone in Michigan, we will have a disconnect.


Thu, Mar 29, 2012 : 10:27 p.m.

Another puff piece on another former SPARK incompetent. Has EVER really looked at SPARK critically? It's always been softballs and puff pieces about an agency that hides its finances, audits, job creation figures, etc. Zero accountability and zero transparency despite getting huge amounts of public money ('we're private'). Yeah... Crony capitalism in action. Failing upwards in Finney's case. For more money each time for doing less and even less transparency.


Thu, Mar 29, 2012 : 7:43 p.m.

How about creating an environment that welcomes everyone instead of creating a divisive, discriminatory, hateful State full of bigotry? How about keeping religion out of State government, keeping sexual orientation bias out of legislation on things like benefits/marriage or civil unions/housing/job discrimination, etc.? How about not taxing pensions on lowly paid retirees? How about funding K-12 education and not making higher education funding at one of the lower 10 States in the USA? How about stopping the attacks on teachers and unions, which are made of people - not some mysterious organization of cyber-robots? How about reinstating the safety net cuts on programs for the poor, the unemployed, the disabled, etc. instead of funding $1.8 billion dollars of cuts for businesses ? Then we can talk about "keeping talent here", unless the Republicans are voted out first that is -- after all, the Republican House is up for election in November !


Thu, Mar 29, 2012 : 7:59 p.m.

I suspect you would have a better shot at the Mega Million Lottery and self-funding your suggetions than getting them enacted by those in Lansing (at the moment). That list could also include fixing the funding model for local units of governments and eliminating the blackmail approach currently employed by Lansing.