Weathering The Storm: Resources to get Through the Labor Shortage

Jennifer Llewellyn, Michigan Works!
January 10, 2022
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Approximately 200,000 women left Michigan's workforce when K-12 schools closed and remote learning took over. The labor shortage is a deeply seeded issue, but learning to navigate these troubled times can make things a bit easier.

Weathering The Storm

By now, we are all familiar with the worker shortage and its significant impact on employers across southeast Michigan and our state.  

“Help Wanted” signs were posted at many businesses well before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in 2020, but the virus exacerbated the problem.  

Hundreds of thousands of workers were temporarily or, unfortunately, permanently laid off, as businesses shut their doors to slow the spread of the disease.  

When employers reopened their doors over the past year, many staff members who they expected to come back to work, did not. Some essential workers, who kept our communities running during the pandemic, also left their jobs due to fear and burnout.  

Many open positions are still vacant, especially in the retail, hospitality, and food service industries. But employers in a variety of fields, including advanced manufacturing, are also still looking for help.  

People ask me: What is the reason for the worker shortage? I think employers in Southeast Michigan are truly facing the perfect storm, and numerous factors are involved.  

First, approximately 200,000 women left the state’s workforce when K-12 schools closed and remote learning took over, according to the Michigan Bureau of Labor Market Information. Many of them have not returned, due to ongoing concerns about school closures and childcare issues. According to a McKinsey & Company report, Women in the Workplace 2021, one in three say they have considered downshifting their career or leave the workforce altogether.

Secondly, people want better wages and working conditions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a record 4.4 million Americans left their jobs in September alone. Not only are many looking for higher wages, especially in the industries I referenced earlier, but they also want more work flexibility and opportunities to work remotely. This is especially true of working parents. A lot of people took the past year to evaluate their jobs, careers and what they want to do long-term – and are making changes to their lives.  

We also must recognize the pandemic is far from over and, quite frankly, people do not want to get sick. This involves people with preexisting health concerns, as well as those with children who are not eligible for vaccination or elderly parents. Retirees, or those approaching retirement age with health concerns, also have realized the threat from the virus is not worth the risk of extending their careers.

In addition, there is a general lack of engagement by some employers. While there are businesses that have started offering higher hourly wages and more flexible scheduling, many have not. Employers must promote career pathways and opportunities for advancement when recruiting new employees. Too many have failed to reengage working mothers, individuals with disabilities, retirees and gig workers who have historically done contract work.

Unfortunately, I believe the worker shortage will not subside anytime soon, due to significant demographic shifts in our region. The state of Michigan already has one of the lowest worker-participation rates in the country, primarily because we are aging out faster than other states. The latest U.S. Census estimates indicate 25% of our residents – 2.46 million people – are at least 60 years old and this figure is growing.  

For those still working, there are plenty of job opportunities, but many require advanced skills. Oakland County Michigan Works! is partnering with local employers to attract these skilled workers and train others as our region embraces the digitization of manufacturing, known as Industry 4.0, bringing computers and automation onto the shop floor.

Over the past year, we have hosted several virtual and in-person job fairs featuring a variety of employers looking to fill positions at all levels of their organizations. Our team also works with employers to promote customized hiring campaigns and identify job candidates. In addition, we meet with job seekers in-person and on a virtual basis to promote a variety of advanced-skills training programs to help them prepare for new careers and fuel the local talent pipeline.

One of the most exciting developments is the launch of the new Advantage: Apprenticeships funding program. We have been awarded $625,000 to help local employers develop 250 registered apprenticeships over the next couple of years. These apprentices will be working in more than just skilled trades jobs, but also in areas such as high-demand advanced manufacturing, health care and information technology positions. The funding can be used to subsidize the apprentice’s wages or training costs.    

We are already working with a number of local manufacturers, including Williams International and Bosch North America, to help them fund apprentice positions. Bosch just graduated its first set of application developer apprentices this fall. Other employers interested in building a registered apprenticeship program and taking advantage of funding assistance should contact their nearest Oakland County Michigan Works! office.

We also actively participate in the state of Michigan’s Going PRO Talent Fund program, which provides employers with funding for customized short-term training targeting new and existing employees. The Going PRO Talent Fund recipients were announced by the state just before Christmas. 125 companies in Oakland County were awarded a total of $3.4 million to hire and train 1,342 new employees, upskill another 1,281 existing workers and create 77 new registered apprenticeships during fiscal year 2022.

The county also has partnered with Oakland Community College (OCC) to offer short-term training for in-demand logic controller/robotics technicians. We launched this training program four years ago and 200 students have completed the class, with 70% successfully finding jobs. We are actively recruiting for the next class of students, which will start in early 2022.  

Computer numerical control (CNC) machine operators also are in high demand across our region. Those who complete our eight-week CNC Operator training program, administered by OCC, earn up to two National Institute for Metalworking Skills certifications and two NC3 certifications. The placement rate for graduates of this training program is nearly 100%.

Most recently, we partnered with OCC and PepsiCo to launch a logistics technician training program to prepare people to work in one of the fastest growing industries in Metro Detroit. Upon completion of the eight-week program, candidates earn several valuable certifications in the logistics industry. Given the supply-chain challenges facing virtually every manufacturer these days, these professionals cannot complete this training fast enough.      

These are just some of the more noteworthy programs in place to prepare highly skilled job candidates in Oakland County and help local employers address their future workforce needs. Those interested in learning more about our services should contact their nearest Oakland County Michigan Works! service center and speak with one of our business solutions professionals. Employers outside of Oakland County should call 1-800-285-WORKS to be connected to their closest service center.

Jennifer Llewellyn, Michigan Works!
Jennifer Llewellyn, Michigan Works!

Jennifer Llewellyn is Director of Oakland County Michigan Works!; Chairwoman of the Michigan Works! Association Leadership Council; and Co-Chairperson of the Board for the Workforce Intelligence Network for Southeast Michigan (WIN).

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