(Originally published in the Michigan League for Human Services blog)
by Peter Ruark
When we read the term “workforce development,’’ we usually think of robotics, green energy or other training programs in emerging industries. But a new report looks at a key segment of the workforce that must not be forgotten – low-skilled workers.
We often do not think of workers who have difficulty in basic skill areas such as writing, mathematics or English as a second language — skills one is assumed to have mastered in order to graduate from high school. Such workers need to become part of that labor pool for the in-demand jobs.
This is important not only for the economic security of their families, but for Michigan’s economic environment. Businesses do not want to open up shop in communities that cannot provide a workforce ready to learn the skills they demand.
The problem is that these adult learners have a hard time attaining occupational credentials due to the need for remediation. Getting a two-year associate’s degree from a community college might require a low-skilled worker to have a year (or more) of developmental education classes before enrolling in any for-credit classes that count toward a degree. The added time, combined with the challenges of juggling work schedules and family needs, often results in workers dropping out of their occupational training programs with nothing to show for their investment (and sometimes with considerable student debt).
Late last year, the Michigan League for Human Services convened a coalition of adult education providers, postsecondary institutions, employer associations, community-based organizations, and literacy trainers to address challenges facing adult learners. The Workforce Development Coalition has just published Strengthening Foundational Skills: A Strategy for Restoring Good Jobs and Economic Security in Michigan, a set of policy recommendations to make it easier for low-skilled workers to get occupational skills and marketable credentials.
These were the issues on everyone’s mind when the Workforce Development Coalition wrote up its recommendations, which include:
- Pass a paid family leave law
- Increase child care funding and the child care subsidy
- Support funding for light rail and other regional transportation projects (as transportation is often difficult for low-wage workers)
- Maintain or increase funding for prisoner re-entry training
- Restore state funding for adult education to $80 million a year from $22 million
- Strengthen the educational data system to include information on adult learners
- Mandate that organizations receiving state or federal workforce funding participate in regional collaborations to create bridge programs, career pathways and other skill-building efforts, and provide technological support and website space for the collaboratives
- Increase, where appropriate, the use of federal funds to support adult learning
Helping low-skilled adults acquire occupational skills and gainful employment will pay off in many ways for Michigan: It will increase the tax base, increase the amount of money families spend at local businesses, attract businesses to the state, encourage entrepreneurship, and reduce the need for public assistance.
Let’s make it a priority.