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Speer: Shortage of skilled labor in the area

April 13, 2012
Bill Speer - Editor/Publisher , The Alpena News

Is Michigan facing a worker shortage?

While it would be hard to believe, that seems to be the case if what politicians are hearing out on the streets is true.

Two separate politicians - State Rep. Peter Pettalia of Presque Isle and U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek of Iron River - both shared with me they were hearing from business owners of a lack of skilled workers available for the jobs they needed to have filled.

The men appeared in my office six weeks apart from each other. Our visits occurred after both had just met with small business owners in our region. However, Pettalia had conducted his meetings starting in Iosco County, moving north to Alpena, while Benishek had conducted his in the northern half of the Lower Peninsula, ending in Alpena.

Specifically, both talked about jobs that required special mechanical skill sets. Traditionally, the jobs would involve skills that in past years, probably would have been touched upon in vocational trade classes at area high schools.

In a region that consistently has led the state and at times, the country, in unemployment numbers, it would seem the availability of workers would be limitless.

However, especially given the declining population numbers in our region, many of those workers it seems may have moved on, following work wherever it led. If that is the case, they obviously took their skills and experience with them.

We always have know that our region's largest export was our young people and now, apparently, also their parents.

Secondly, with many school districts facing budget concerns over the past several years, many class options have been reduced, or eliminated entirely. Often times the first classes to be consolidated were vocational offerings by school administrators.

Whatever the reasons, area businesses hoping to expand or fill key vacancies are faced with a lack of talent, and thus options. It is creating an unhealthy environment where employers are spending more time in training than what they would like, or can afford.

The situation is something that needs addressed, as it could prove an obstacle to the speed at which economic recovery can occur locally. By industrial, business and educational leaders all working together, certainly programs can be fine tuned and classes created to meet he skill sets needed by local employers.

Many factors have contributed to our region's economic growth, or lack of, over the years.

The least of those factors, however, should be a lack of workers skilled in particular areas.

If the need exists, it should be something we can rectify quickly.



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