This article appeared in the May 2018 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.
Q: Talent and workforce development have been areas you’ve worked on with MMA in recent years. Why has skilled trades training been a top priority for you?
Senator Horn: When I was named chair of the Senate Economic Development and International Investment Committee, I spent several weeks asking employers what their needs were to make Michigan great again and continue our economic recovery. Every one of them had the same story to tell — they need skilled workers and they are willing to pay to train and retain good employees. Because we’ve pushed students so heavily toward college in recent decades, we’ve left thousands of high-paying jobs unfilled that, by the way, cost much less to train for. The landscape has changed and we have to address it now. If we don’t adjust our focus, our manufacturing industry can’t grow.
Q: What is your vision for Michigan’s talent future? What more does the Legislature and manufacturing have to do to achieve that goal?
Senator Horn: In a nutshell, I want a wide array of options for students and the recognition that there are substantial careers in manufacturing. If we don’t change our mindset, we won’t fix the problem. The economy is driving these jobs to a forefront and not just in Michigan. Several states are making investments in career and technical education to address shortages in their workforce. On my to-do list for the Legislature and manufacturing community: Establishing real partnerships between employers and educators and continuing to develop ways for students to experience career options before they leave high school. I’ve often said that if I could wave a magic wand, I would put a shop class back in every high school. Another of my goals is getting directly to parents and students to talk to them about the cost-benefit of certified vocational programs versus a 4-year degree. My objective is to have every student discover their passion and then give them the tools to succeed.
Q: The STTF has provided more than $72.9 million in competitive awards for skilled trades training. Tell us how you’re working to improve this valuable funding resource?
Senator Horn: The Skilled Trades Training Fund (STTF), which depends on an annual appropriation, has been incredibly successful in creating jobs and advancing opportunities for employees. Senate Bill 946 solidifies the program firmly into state law for the future. We’re switching the name to the Going Pro Talent Program to better reflect the broad nature of training and to promote the significance of our professional trades. The most important change is expanding the timeline for training to be completed. Today, training generally has to be completed in the first half of the calendar year. Under the bill, training can occur within a year of the award, which is something employers need in order to be more effective. It also ensures that prior year investments in the fund won’t lapse at the end of a fiscal year, but stay with the program for future years.
Q: Explain how Senate Bill 684 can help employers attract young people to manufacturing careers?
Senator Horn: Growing up, I had a paper route, mowed lawns, shoveled sidewalks and worked on a farm. Many young people these days don’t have the same opportunities. How do they know what they like and don’t like, and how do they build a work ethic? Today, seventh grade students create an “educational development plan” and review it just once a year later. It doesn’t make sense to ignore it in future years. SB 684 will have students’ update their development plan regularly as they get closer to choosing a path after high school. Students should be encouraged to include their experiences with apprenticeships, internships and classes to discover where their true interests and abilities lie.