A “To-Do” List For Attracting Top Notch Workers

There’s an increased focus in recent months on an issue that’s been a concern of business leaders for some time – the challenge of developing and drawing workforce talent to the state of Michigan.

As more and more companies come forward publicly to lament their inability to fill key positions in skilled trades, engineering, research, etc., Michigan finds itself in a bit of a quandary as a state whose unemployment numbers remain too high but also one where there’s a growing lack of qualified applicants for what are considered good career opportunities.

Top private and public execs all the way up to Gov. Rick Snyder are honing in on this challenge. But it’s not something the state can tackle alone. Local communities and their institutions must be partners in this quest to bring more talent to Michigan, either through attracting skilled workers or producing more homegrown talent ourselves.

There are encouraging signs. In Northwest Michigan we’re seeing increased cooperation between local colleges and high schools to ready students for high-demand trades outside of the traditional college model. The Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District is doing more to train students for a quicker and seamless transition to the workforce, and local businesses are taking a more hands-on approach in developing their own skilled workers.

Better education and training are just part of the solution. In today’s rapidly evolving world economy, skilled workers are in demand everywhere – it’s not just a Michigan issue. It’s incumbent on local communities to get involved in the push to attract and retain workforce talent. Workers and their employers are more mobile than ever, so factors outside the four walls of the traditional workplace are a growing factor on where these sought-after employees will decide to live and raise their families.

That’s among the reasons the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce continues to bolster its Young Professionals program. The YPs bring new energy and ideas both to this organization and the region. The group is also working hard to make sure other up-and-coming career seekers can learn as much as possible about the benefits of living and working in northern Michigan, and that there are young people just like them who will help make sure their transition is as seamless as possible.

It’s also why the Traverse Bay Economic Development Corp. partnered on two recent research projects to measure the economic impact of outdoor recreation facilities and events – the Vasa Pathway and local youth soccer and lacrosse tournaments. These are not just economic engines for the local commerce they generate, although that alone is significant and impressive. They also serve as gateways and invitations to our community. For some users/participants, it’s their first encounter with the region’s amenities and lifestyle that many of us take for granted. It’s critical that these venues and events put the area’s best foot forward to create first impressions with lasting impacts.

There’s much more on the “to do” list to attract and retain a world-class workforce. Excellent education institutions both public and private, connectivity to the outside world from roads to airports to the internet, arts and cultural offerings, and stable and growing home and property values all play a vital role in creating a region where talented workers want to come and thrive. Mother Nature’s done plenty to make northern Michigan an enticing place to call home. Let’s make sure she’s not going it alone.

Doug Luciani is President/CEO of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. Send him an email at luciani@tcchamber.org.