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Talent in the workforce

Some years ago, a former computer executive wrote a business plan for Ann Arbor Spark, which calls itself a business accelerator. Most of those involved felt what he came up with was decent, with one big exception.

"We actually created a vice president of talent, and boy, did I get a lot of criticism,” the executive told me last summer. “People said how dumb I was for putting it in there.”

His critics told him that even if this made business sense, quote, “you are just going to lose your best and brightest by marketing your talent,” he told me, with an air of amused satisfaction.

 That’s because his critics were very wrong. The computer executive, you see, was Governor Rick Snyder. And as for his idea, he told me that “it’s been the largest single generator of job creation—we took the fabulous talent that we have and made it into a magnet. Now, I want to do that at the state level.”

That’s what was behind the governor’s special message yesterday, a speech much of the media is saying was about ‘workforce development.’  Ironically, when I talked to the governor about this, that’s exactly what he didn’t want to call it.

He told me that “workforce development” was a term used for training people for jobs that might or might not exist.

"From kindergarten on, through community colleges, the university, the private sector—all the training is based on giving people skills.” The problem, “was that a lot of programs exist that may be training people where there aren’t even really jobs!”

So Snyder told me, “the biggest part of the talent innovation message is (that) we are going to go to the employer marketplace and really try to do a longer term estimate in getting information on where jobs are going to be.”

Whatever your politics, that has to make sense. Some people were puzzled yesterday when the governor didn’t call for a massive program of new legislation in connection with his message.

I wasn’t surprised. Snyder did ask the lawmakers to make changes in the unemployment system that he said might help employers keep people in jobs, and might help those who are laid off better find a new career.  But he seemed most excited about a new website designed to better connect those who have jobs with those who are looking for work.

How this will work exactly, I am not sure, and my guess is that they are going to have to strive to make sure this isn’t seen as just one more bulletin boards scattered around the web.

Also intriguing is a work-sharing proposal he unveiled that is designed to allow companies to reduce a person’s hours rather than lay them off completely. True, that sometimes happens now. But under the governor’s proposal, such a worker could collect unemployment insurance for the hours lost.

Some other states have such a program, But what was  dismaying was that early reaction to this idea seemed much more positive among minority Democrats than the governor’s ruling Republicans. If we are going to get competitive again, a lot of us are going to have to go outside our comfort zones.

All that really matters is finding solutions that work.  

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