Michigan Education Association

84,000 jobs unfilled due to lack of qualified candidates

Fixing dropout crisis, enhancing access to post-high school training critical to Michigan’s economic recovery and long-term future

EAST LANSING, Mich., Nov. 20, 2008 – Despite Michigan’s high unemployment rate and declining manufacturing industry, 84,000 unfilled jobs remain in the state due to a lack of qualified applicants, according to the Future Business Index Study. The key to filling those jobs is specialized training that must begin early and continue after high school.

“Michigan’s high unemployment rate has more to do with a lack of necessary education and training, than with a lack of employment opportunities,” the study reported.

Simply put, for Michigan’s economy to turn around, its future workforce must be armed with high-tech skills to prepare them for 21st century jobs. And that can’t happen when 21,000 Michigan students per year drop out before even finishing high school.

“The biggest dilemma facing Michigan high school dropouts and graduates alike is that many don’t realize the traditional Michigan safety net is gone,” said Michigan Education Association (MEA) President Iris Salters. “While their great grandparents had Henry Ford’s assembly line to turn to, many of today’s students and their parents don’t realize it’s increasingly impossible for workers without post-high school training to find good employment.”

A series of MEA-sponsored dropout hearings conducted this year provide some answers for how to change students’ perceptions and keep at-risk kids in school. One major solution is to make school more relevant to students and their lives.

“As educators, our job is to find the spark that lights students’ fire for learning,” Salters said. “That can come from additional rigor in the curriculum along with career and technical education programs that show students how what they learn in school is applicable in the real world.”

At the dropout hearings, employers concurred, repeatedly calling for schools to offer hands-on training in key areas like business, medical and professional services, creating a highly-skilled workforce ready for companies to tap.

“The places with the greatest concentration of talent will win in this flattening world,” says Lou Glazer, president of Michigan Future, Inc. “States and regions that are lacking will find it hard to attract or retain knowledge-based enterprises.”

The good news is that there are a number of inventive career and technical education options already in place in many state school districts. 

Examples include:

  • High school students in Mecosta creating podcasts to help struggling students learn to read.

  • High school students in Sand Lake using hand-held technology to analyze water quality in local rivers.

  • High school students in Southfield using PowerPoint and high-tech computer software in both the classroom and in hands-on corporate experience.

  • High school students in Dansville creating movies and animation and designing video games.

  • Fifth- and sixth-graders in Muskegon building and testing underwater robots.

  • Fourth-grade students in Charlevoix designing Web pages.

“The critical thinking and technical skills those students are learning are the types of talents that will be sought after in the workplace,” Salters said. “Our schools can position Michigan once again as a leader in innovation and technology. To do that, we must ensure that every student in our state has the opportunity to learn these skills. Only then can the dropout crisis truly become a thing of the past.”

For more information on the career/technical programs listed here or others in your local area, please contact Kerry Birmingham, MEA media relations specialist, at kbirmingham@mea.org or 517-337-5508. 

For a summary report on the dropout hearings, go to www.mea.org/dropouts.


Contact:  Kerry Birmingham, MEA Communications, 517-337-5508.


Updated: February 17, 2009 4:32 PM