LANSING- With Michigan’s unemployment rate at the second-worst level
in the nation, educators struggle with how to get graduates into the workforce
while state leaders try to make Michigan more attractive to college graduates
and other educated young people.
Michigan’s unemployment rate has risen to 7.5 percent, according to the Department of Labor & Economic Growth (DLEG). That’s up from 7.1 percent in January. Only Alaska has a greater proportion of its population without work.
David Hollister, the director of the DLEG, said Michigan’s economy is shifting from manufacturing and becoming more high tech. It isn’t enough to be able to read, write and do basic math anymore, he said, because people must be technologically literate as well.
Hollister also advocated more apprenticeship programs in high schools where students can get job experience in skilled trades.
For example, in West Michigan, the Grand Rapids Area Pre-College Engineering Program (GRAPCEP), combines math and science classes with job shadowing and summer work experience.
GRAPCEP also helps teachers develop a curriculum of skills sought by technical businesses. The program is administered through Davenport University and the DLEG.
Margaret Trimer-Hartley, director of communications for the Michigan Education Association, said curriculum standards need to be high if young people are to succeed in the workforce or college.
“You need more and better education to get through those tough times,” she said. “We need to intensify the rigor of the courses.”
High school students “need to be taking a college prep curriculum whether or not they’re going anywhere after college,” she said. “The things we thought were essential for going to college are now essential for going to a trade school.”
Tom White, chair of the K-16 Coalition, a group of 11 education groups from around the state working for increased school funding, said a good education is the key to a better economic future.
“We’re educating the kids who are going to be future taxpayers,” he said.
But what if they don’t want to stay in Michigan?
Gov. Jennifer Granholm launched the Cool Cities initiative to keep college graduates enthusiastic about living and working in Michigan cities.
Hollister said young people leave for other states because “big cities” elsewhere are perceived as more glamorous.
Detroit and Chicago share similar culture, arts, sports and crime rate, he said, but “the most striking difference is image.”
At the same time, Trimer-Hartley cautioned that image may get people to come to a community, but it won’t make them stay.
“You’ve got to have lots of things beyond being cool,” she said, adding that it’s not good enough for a city to say, “come to our community – our schools are closing but we have a great coffee shop down the street.
“You have to have desirable communities that people envision sending their kids to.”