09 December 2011

Web Tools for Michigan's Unemployed

Story first appeared in The Detroit News.

Gov. Rick Snyder sees a disconnect between what Michigan's employers need and what's available to them in the state's work force. And his plan to fix it drew positive early reviews after its unveiling Thursday.

To improve Michigan's work force development efforts, Snyder outlined a plan that includes everything from a new one-stop website for prospective employers and employees, to proposed changes for unemployment benefits, to calls for change on immigration caps and new goals for the state's welfare to work efforts.

Snyder said times have been tough in Michigan. He added that we have failed to think strategically about the relationship between economic development and talent. Job creators are finding it challenging to grow and develop without the right talent, and job seekers are struggling to connect with the right opportunities that leverage their skills.

He added that today, too few workers have the skills needed to meet the demands of employers in the new economy. Despite an unemployment rate of 10.6 percent, thousands of jobs remain unfilled in Michigan.

At the heart of Snyder's plan is the Internet site Pure Michigan Talent Connect, which he described as a "Web-based talent marketplace."

For those seeking work, it will provide information on education opportunities, areas of job growth and openings. For businesses searching for help, it will connect them with possible hires.

To further help businesses hold on to valued workers, Snyder will push for changes to the unemployment system. He proposed allowing work sharing, where companies can scale back worker hours and then the employees would get partial unemployment benefits.

This allows the employers to retain their talent and ensures that a business can begin growing again immediately once demand returns to normal levels.

It benefits employees because they retain employment and fringe benefits.
Lawmakers' OK needed

The change to unemployment would have to be approved by the state Legislature.

He also wants to eliminate caps on the immigrants with master's degrees or higher levels of education. It's a move that would require action in Congress and Snyder encouraged those in attendance Thursday to contact their elected officials on the subject.

Two state programs drew particular scrutiny from Snyder. Michigan's Jobs, Education and Training program is designed to help low-income families. Those receiving federal and state unemployment assistance will be encouraged to use work-participation programs.

In Michigan, Snyder said, the participation level is unacceptable.

He promoted a new effort between several state agencies to boost those levels above standards set by the federal government.

Lindsay Chalmers, vice president of Goodwill Industries, attended the governor's speech and agreed with much of what he heard concerning improvements to the two programs. Goodwill provides training and services aimed at putting people back into the workforce.

Michigan Works!, the state's doorway program to job training and employment opportunities, must be changed as well, Snyder said.

The program will shift to a "demand-driven strategy," and the program's executive director welcomed the challenge.

Snyder also focused on the role of the state's universities and community colleges in promoting a focus on computers, engineering and mathematics skills — areas that have seen a decline in student interest in recent decades.

But simply pushing colleges in that direction won't be enough, said an economics professor at Michigan State University.

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