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'Bridging Michigan's Workforce Divide': Talent Matters

By Tom Watkins

A pillar of this years Detroit Regional Chambers Mackinac Policy Conference is Talent and Education. Governor Snyder and the business community understand the importance of investing in talent.

Perhaps the only thing worse than Michigan's "brain drain" -- losing young professionals and college graduates for greener pastures than Michigan -- is the uneducated youth staying behind.

Michigan cannot "reinvent" itself to be competitive on the global stage without retaining and being a magnet for young professionals who possess the training and education, coupled with an entrepreneurial and pioneering spirit.

We must make Michigan the "Brain Bank of the World," where everyone wants to come for deposits and withdraws.

Currently, there is a clear mismatch between large number of unemployed and employers seeking skilled employees.

Many of us have experienced the problem of having a college degree but lacking work experience. The employer seeks skilled workers with experience while the inexperienced wannabe employee has the desire but not experience. Therein lies the rub.

Enter Intern in Michigan to help fill the experience gap and help reverse our state's brain drain. Intern in Michigan is an outgrowth of the New Economy Initiative funded by the Kellogg Foundation.

Wendy Pittman, executive director of Intern in Michigan, and her team have learned a great deal about why young, skilled workers leave Michigan. They are putting that knowledge to work.

Gov. Rick Snyder realizes there is a mismatch between employers seeking employees and workers seeking jobs and has put technology to use, creating at Pure Michigan Talent Connect.

There are literally hundreds of companies looking for college-educated talent even as thousands of students seek internship opportunities to gain valuable experience. I view Intern in Michigan as the ultimate matchmaker, helping to connect business with interns and vice-versa.

Citing the National Association of Colleges and Employers, Pittman says companies converted 58 percent of their interns into full-time employees last year and about 83 percent of students stay in the region where they intern. Simply put, students stay where they are wanted and there are opportunities.

We know that if our youth leave the state, recruiting them to come back becomes exponentially more difficult not to mention expensive. It is reported that over the last 10 years, nearly 50 percent of college graduates left the mitten state to find employment elsewhere. Sadly, for parents and the economic vitality of our state, we know most of them are unlikely to return.

A quality internship is a proven strategy for keeping our youth in Michigan.

Talent is the 21st century commodity that will drive the global economy. The city, region, state and nation that aligns its system of education and talent will thrive moving forward.

Lou Glazer, president of Michigan Future has been beating that drum for over a decade, saying, "Talent matters!"

If we want to have a prosperous Michigan we need an educated citizenry.

Connect the dots. Since its launch in November 2012, Intern in Michigan has posted more than thousands of internship opportunities at more than 1,000 companies throughout Michigan. These internships are as diverse as is the range of companies that span our great state.

Not only is Intern in Michigan helping to keep young Michigan talent in Michigan, its acts as a talent magnet as well. To date, over 10,000 students from colleges and universities throughout the country have registered at seeking meaningful internship opportunities.

Intern in Michigan is a radical reimagining of the state's internship environment. This groundbreaking new system instantly connects students and employers through a unique online matching system. Saving time and headaches, Intern in Michigan makes connections based on specific job-requirements and the individual interests and skills of the candidates.

Phil Power, founder and president of The Center for Michigan ( put it this way: "Finding, attracting, nurturing and retraining talent is the single most important thing we can do as state. It is more important than any particular whiz-bang, silver bullet economic policy."

The Michigan Legislature should heed the words of Governor Snyder Wendy Pittman, Lou Glazer and Phil Power. They need to measure every policy decision they make against what their actions are doing to make Michigan the talent bank of the world. Are we investing in educating our youth and retraining our existing work force?

Pittman is looking to partner with, business associations, chambers of commerce, government agencies, and employers large and small to help to spread the word that "hiring interns in Michigan will create a strong foundation for reversing the brain drain."

How very right she is!

Our Michigan motto has always been "If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you." We all need to do our part to keep our youth, our future, here at home.

There is a growing recognition that Michigan is prospering again. For three years running, Michigan has had more plant and expansion projects than any other state in the nation.

Working together, with "relentless positive action" we can reverse the brain drain, match employees with employers, and provide a solid foundation to continue rebuilding the state we love to call home.

Wake up, Michigan. Talent matters.

Tom Watkins is a former Michigan state superintendent of schools and the former president and CEO of the economic council of Palm Beach County, Florida. He is a US/China business and educational consultant an can be reached at:

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