What will it take to open the U.S.-Canadian border?


WXYZ Detroit

(WXYZ) — The U.S. border with Canada has been closed to all non-essential travel for more than a year now, and it’s expected to last at least through June 21. That means another month of frustration for people on both sides, unable to see family or vacation.

From the experts we’ve talked to, the border’s reopening is likely tied to COVID-19 vaccination rates.

In Canada, just under 58% of the population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but only 4.5% have been fully vaccinated.

Canada secured vaccine deals with European factories, and those factories are struggling with supplies. Canada also lacks the capacity to produce its own vaccine.

The border has only closed twice before – on 9/11 and during the black out in 2003.

Danielle Reed is one of those people who can’t see her family in Canada. She a young child, and her 85-year-old grandma said she has told them she hopes she gets to hug them before she dies.

“It’s absolutely heartbreaking,” Reed said.

Reed said it’s hard trying to explain this to her 2 1/2-year-old.

“She’ll say, ‘Does Nanna not wanna see me?’ I’ll say, ‘well Nanna does wanna see you, honey.’ I had to explain it to her today that when the government says she can come, she can come,” Reed said.

Each border closure extension is followed by disappointment. Dozens of people shared similar frustrations on our Channel 7 Facebook page.

A closure affecting family time, accessing one’s property, tourism and business, like the auto industry.

“I touched base with two CEOs this morning, one in Canada and one in the US, just to get an update,” Glenn Stevens, Jr., the VP of automotive and mobility initiatives for the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, said. “Like I said, the goods and services are moving but the ability for people to interact, it’s a hands-on industry. The ability to visit plants, show new technology, those things are tough.”

Stevens said he’s hopeful that as things progress and vaccines get distributed, the reopening will happen.

Rakesh Naidu, the president and CEO of the Windsor Essex Chamber of Commerce, echoed both views. He said the border closure caused a 25% cut in revenue for small businesses in Windsor because of a drop in tourism.

“When we have two advanced countries with so much science at our disposal, so much data at our disposal, I wonder why we can’t be more aggressively using that science, data and the technology at our disposal to reopen the border,” Naidu said.

He added that Windsor’s mayor and the chamber are advocating for a vaccine sharing plan. That would mean Michigan would share its surplus vaccine with Canada so it doesn’t go to waste.

“While there is still a shortage of vaccine on the Canadian, the border region here especially, being so close to the Detroit region where these vaccines are potentially wasted, it’ll be wonderful if we can salvage that and use it and that will increase the vaccination rate and get more people vaccinated here which helps in reopening the border,” Naidu said.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said it’s reviewing the concept of a vaccine sharing plan.

Naidu, with the Windsor Essex Chamber of Commerce, also said if there’s a way to establish who’s been fully vaccinated like a vaccine passport, that might be another way to resume non-essential travel.

View original article here 

First Advanced Workforce Manufacturing Technician Program in Michigan Launching in Jackson

Jackson (May 26, 2021) – Today, the Jackson Area Manufacturing Association (JAMA) and MICHauto, a statewide initiative of the Detroit Regional Chamber, announce a new two-year, debt-free Associate degree that equips students with the skills required for a rapidly evolving manufacturing industry. Michigan’s first Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) program will provide students a pathway to meaningful, well-paying careers in an industry with a critical shortage of qualified workers. The state of Michigan’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity projects that 75% of the jobs of the future will require a post-secondary degree.

Jackson Area Manufacturers Association (JAMA) will be the first in Michigan to launch this unique skilled workforce program in the state.

Bill Rayl, President of JAMA, says, “This program is an important part of a collaboration among K-12 education, higher education, and local industry to respond to Jackson’s workforce needs now and into the future. Our aim with the MI FAME JAMA chapter is to create a pipeline of global-best, entry-level multiskilled maintenance technicians to support manufacturers in and near Jackson, Michigan.”

“For more than 100 years, Michigan has been the global epicenter of the automotive industry, but for our state to remain competitive, it is critical that we improve and expand education opportunities,” said Glenn Stevens, executive director for MICHauto. “FAME provides a pathway for students to enter industry debt-free with the skills needed. This program will be good for students, good for Jackson, and good for manufacturers throughout Michigan.”

Created by Toyota in 2009, FAME has 35 chapters with more than 350 company partners across 13 states, including 10 new chapters launching this fall. There have been more than 1,100 graduates since 2010, with more than 300 graduates in Spring 2020 alone

FAME focuses on those who are interested in pursuing a career in manufacturing or a STEM-related field. Recruitment is underway for an August 2021 start. Students must submit an application by July 16,2021 to be considered for an interview. Orientation will take place in early August. Students can apply at www.jamafame.org. Students selected for the program will have a paid position three days a week with a participating employer and attend classes the other two days. After receiving 1800 hours of on-the-ground experience, 85% of graduates proceed to direct employment with a sponsoring company and earn wages that are, on average, 25% more than non-FAME graduates.

FAME provides an opportunity to change lives,” said Tony Davis Senior Director for Workforce Initiatives for The Manufacturing Institute and national FAME. “Our students have an opportunity to move into careers, not just jobs, to develop skills that can transport with them to wherever they need to go. It’s a game-changer for so many students that come from backgrounds where this may not otherwise be an option. It opens additional doors and multiple pathways come out of it.”

“FAME is also designed directly for employers,” says Dennis Dio Parker of Toyota Motor North America, who founded the FAME Career Pathway for his company’s need to address the workforce pipeline. “The FAME AMT Program produces global-talent that drives business results, and in the race for global competitiveness we want our FAME employers starting that race in the front row.”

“Investing in our future workforce demands in S.E Michigan with technical skill training and high paying salaries for the future of mobility team is critical to our industry’s success.” Said Shinichi Yasui, President of Toyota Engineering Manufacturing North America which has its Research & Development center in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

This new chapter is a result of hard work, careful planning, and collaboration among JAMA, Toyota, FAME USA as an initiative of The Manufacturing Institute, MICHauto, and stakeholders across the industry and academia.

Michigan Teens Engineer Success at 2021 Innovative Vehicle Design Challenge

FLINT, Mich. – Calls for batteries, tools and zip ties came from the row of pit tents at Kettering University’s Mobility Research Center test track as dozens of Michigan high school and middle school students worked on their autonomous, electric and hybrid vehicles in between races this week to compete in Square One’s 14th Annual Innovative Vehicle Design (IVD) Challenge.

Teams from 24 schools competed in four competitions: Autonomous Innovative Vehicle Design Challenge, Mini Innovative Vehicle Design Challenge, V2X Innovative Vehicle Design and the Full-Scale Innovative Vehicle Design Challenge. Twenty-one teams competed in person, while 17 teams competed virtually during the two-day event May 18-19.

“The 2021 Square One Innovative Vehicle Design Competition reflected the perseverance and determination of our students and their teachers. Despite the ongoing challenges faced this year, these middle and high school ‘engineers’ built valuable STEM skills and were introduced to college and career pathways around the future of transportation,” said Barb Land, CEO of the Square One Education Network. “These projects offered in-class and after-school, are the ‘hooks’ that inspire kids to engage in STEM, growing the future, tech-savvy workforce that industry needs.”

Students also had the chance to check out Kettering University’s AutoDrive Team’s car Bulldog Bolt and a pace car from Michigan International Speedway.

The Autonomous Innovative Vehicle Design Challenge project challenges students to re-engineer a “Power Wheels Jeep” into an autonomous vehicle. The Mini Innovative Vehicle Design Racing Challenge requires teams to re-engineer an electric 1/10th scale RC vehicle, for optimal performance, and the V2X challenge simulates the sensors and coding necessary for successful autonomous movement. The Full-Scale Innovative Vehicle Design Challenge inspires teams to transform a gas-powered go-kart kit or build a car from the ground up into an electric or hybrid electric vehicle, featuring an innovative component that sets it apart
from the rest.

“As I have always said, the kids will get more and learn more in this one day than they may all year long in the classroom,” said Montcalm Area Career Center teacher Michael Johnson, after the event. “I was able to see who steps up and leads, how much teamwork under pressure works and perseverance and attitude.”

The Montcalm Area Career Center won multiple awards during the competition, including the Engineering Award in the Full-Scale IVD competition.

The winners in each competition were (* indicates the team competed virtually):

Autonomous IVD
• Innovation Award: Traverse Bay Area Career Tech Center Team A1902*
• Engineering Award: Canyon Lake High School (Fischer, TX) Team A2008*
• Design Award: Divine Child High School Team A1401
• Performance Awards: Divine Child High School Team A1401 (first); Northwest High School Team A1701 (second)
• Ambassadorship Award: Traverse Bay Area Career Tech Center Team A1901*
• Square One Award: Grandville High School Team A2103 and Team A2105 (tie)
• Craftsmanship Award: Divine Child High School Team A1401
• Presentation Award: Fitzgerald High School Team A2101*

Full-Scale IVD
• Innovation Award: AGBU Alex-Marie Manoogian School Team F1505
• Engineering Award: Montcalm Area Career Center Team F1801
• Design Award: Unionville-Sebewaing High School Team F2002*
• Performance Awards: Innovation Academy Team F2001 (first); Williamston High School Team F1601 (second); Montcalm Area Career Center Team F1801 (third)
• Ambassadorship Award: Stockbridge Jr/Sr High School Team F1502*
• Square One Award: AGBU Alex-Marie Manoogian School Team F1505
• Craftsmanship Award: Oxford High School Team F1501
• Presentation Award: Oxford High School Team F1501
• CAD and Manufacturing Award: AGBU Alex-Marie Manoogian School Team F1505 and Montcalm Area Career Center Team F1801 (tie)

Mini IVD
• Innovation Award: Reese Middle School Team M1601
• Engineering Award: Huron Area Technical Center Team M1201
• Design Award: Roseville High School Team M1501
• Performance Awards: Reese High School Team M2005 (first); Reese Middle School Team M1601 (second); Huron Area Technical Center Team M1201 (third)
• Ambassadorship Award: Clinton High School Team M1204
• Square One Award: Flint Cultural Center Academy Team M2101
• Craftsmanship Award: Stockbridge Jr/Sr High School Team M1502*
• Presentation Award: Huron Area Technical Center Team 1201
• Top Speed Challenge: Reese High School Team M2005 (65 mph)

V2X IVD (Completely Virtual)
• Innovation Award: Stockbridge Jr/Sr High School Team V2003*
• Engineering Award: Davis Middle School Team V2015*
• Performance Awards: Davis Middle School Team V2015* (first); Roseville High School Team V2008* (second); Traverse Bay Area Career Tech Center Team V2006* (third)
• Ambassadorship Award: Traverse Bay Area Career Tech Center Team V2006*
• Square One Award: AGBU Alex-Marie Manoogian School Team V2010 and Northwest High School Team V2004 (tie)
• Presentation Award: Stockbridge Jr/Sr High School Team V2003*
• Remote Control Award: Stockbridge Jr/Sr High School Team V2003*
• CAD and Manufacturing Award: AGBU Alex-Marie Manoogian School Team V2010

Scholarship Winners
• Kettering University Mobility Scholarship: Matt Hughey of Ogemaw Heights High School; this scholarship is up to $5,000 a year and is renewable.
• Umlaut $500 Scholarship: Alexxandria Davey of the Traverse Bay Area Career Tech Center
• ITS Michigan Masters of Mobility $500 Scholarship: Ashley Bouse of Clinton High School, Jameson McKnight of Huron
Area Technical Center and Luke Lawson of the Traverse Bay Area Career Tech Center
• Mike Bammer Memorial $500 Scholarship: Simon Yeldo of AGBU Alex-Marie Manoogian School and Luke Lenton of the Southfield High School for Arts and Technology
• Zach MacLean Memorial $500 Scholarship: Josh Schaffner of Clinton High School

Square One is a Michigan-based educational organization focused on developing talent for the future workforce. The non-profit does this by empowering teachers and students with hands-on learning experiences around high-quality STEM projects in partnership with higher education institutions, industry organizations and more.

This was the second time the competition took place at Kettering University. Plans are in the works for it to return next year.

It was the eighth year umlaut, a global full-service engineering and consulting firm, sponsored the event. In addition to umlaut, this year’s competition was supported by the Michigan Department of Education, Kettering University, Washtenaw Community College, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Brose, ITS Michigan, MiSTEM Network and Good Sense Media.

About Square One Education Network
The Square One Education Network (Square One) develops talent within our nation’s classrooms by providing authentic, leading edge content that is real-world applicable for tomorrow’s workforce needs. Recognized as a premier partner in igniting student potential toward STEM careers in manufacturing and mobility, Square One offers personalized service to partners and schools for optimal results. Youth participating in Square One programs develop skills that are directly applicable to tomorrow’s workforce
needs. Square One Education Network offers a unique blend of teacher training, student programming and industry access to future talent that is affordable, high impact, scalable, replicable, and valued.

About Kettering University
Kettering University, formerly known as GMI, is a Flint, Michigan-based private, nonprofit university recognized as one of the nation’s premier science, technology, engineering and business leaders in higher education. Dedicated to offering a curriculum that uniquely integrates classroom learning with experiential co-operative opportunities, Kettering consistently ranks in U.S. News & World Report’s listing for elite specialty schools. The University has more than 27,000 square feet of lab and research space used by faculty, students and industry collaborators, and boasts the only ABET-accredited applied physics program in the world. It also
houses the first and only FIRST Robotics Community Center on a college campus in the United States. According to a 2019 analysis of federal data ranking 4,500 schools nationwide, Kettering University degree holders have the highest lifetime return on investment (ROI) in the state of Michigan. The University celebrated its centennial year in 2019. For more information, go to kettering.edu.

MICHauto Wraps Up Discover Auto Program for the School Year, Connects with 500 Students Statewide

Last week, MICHauto wrapped up the Discover Auto program for the 2020-2021 school year. Despite changing circumstances due to COVID-19, the team hosted four successful virtual tours engaging with more than 500 students across the state.

In a three-part series with MICHauto partner, Square One Education Network, Hella, Omron, and Brose each hosted their own, unique tours with engaging presentations from young professionals, technology demonstrations, and live Q&As, affording students the opportunity to ask questions about potential career pathways in automotive.

Omron featured a video tour of their innovation lab as well, allowing students to see the technology in action and view the facility where they could one day work. All three companies did a great job engaging with students and the participants’ stories and backgrounds resonated with the students. For instance, during Brose’s event, Roxanne Bazinski talked about how her passion for math and art came together in a way that she did not think was possible when she started her job as an automotive parts designer. The series with Square One was well attended with students and teachers from Detroit, Macomb, Kalamazoo, Grand Ledge, Ann Arbor, Grayling, and the Upper Peninsula.

Barb Land, executive director of Square One said, “The Discover Auto series provides our students and teachers with authentic, real-world insight into the exciting and diverse career pathways of the future. These virtual tours and the chance to interact with industry professionals really help to illustrate the great job opportunities within the automotive industry.”

The final Discover Auto of the year was with MICHauto partner, Project Lead the Way (PLTW), featuring Omron. Several PLTW classes, including Cybersecurity and Introduction to Engineering Design, logged on for the event from St. Clair High School, Swartz Creek High School, and Farmington Hills High School. The students enjoyed seeing the technology they’re learning about in class actually being tested in Omron’s innovation lab tour. The teachers even gained valuable information from the tour when discussing Omron’s free continued e-learning resources.

Lyndsey Lindsay, director of school engagement for PLTW in Michigan stated, “Through the MICHauto Discover Auto Tour with Omron, students were able to connect directly into the industry and see careers in automotive and mobility as exciting and viable career choices for PLTW students.”

Thank you to our partners, Square One Education Network and Project Lead the Way, and our investors, Hella, Omron, and Brose, for helping make the virtual Discover Auto program so successful. The shift to a more virtual world has allowed us to reach students that we would not have been able to engage with previously due to location. Therefore, we plan to continue the virtual platform in the fall. To learn more about the Discover Auto program, contact Jenny Orletski-Dehne at jorletski@michauto.org.


Michigan Teens Engineer Success at 2021 Innovative Vehicle Design Challenge

CEO Spotlight: Detroit Manufacturing Systems’ Bruce Smith

Bruce Smith is the chairman and chief executive officer of Detroit Manufacturing Systems (DMS). MICHauto spoke with Smith about his priorities and motivations as an automotive executive.

What are you passionate about?
Helping others reach their full potential and succeed at whatever they are passionate about.

What are you grateful for?
I have been incredibly blessed, so I am grateful for so many things. I am most thankful for my family and friends, along with the memories and love we share.

What are the most important attributes of successful leaders today?
I believe the most successful leaders are gifted at sincerely caring for others while driving excellent performance within their teams.

What advice do you have for the next generation?
I am going to turn this question around and ask “What can we learn from the next generation?” The Millennials are tech-savvy, strive for flexibility, have a hunger for learning, want more vacation time, and believe in working smarter not harder. They also are motivated by meaning, believe in diversity, and want authentic, straight-talk from their employers. I think we can learn a lot from them.

At the same time, they have a higher rate of depression, loneliness, and panic attacks as compared to other generations. My advice to them is to take time to socially connect, in real life and not via your smart phone, with others. Having great relationships is a wonderful antidote to the challenging things that life throws at us.

How do you keep your team motivated in the face of conflicts or obstacles?
At my company, we say “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” This prompts us to proactively look for opportunities to learn and improve our performance, individually and collectively, while we face obstacles. At the same time, we deliberately and continually talk about how to drive accountability while simultaneously strengthening our relationships with each other. Along these lines, I and a large cross-section of our leaders are currently having “lunch and learn” sessions where we listen to Brene Brown’s podcast entitled “Armored Versus Daring Leadership” then openly discuss what we’ve learned and how to best apply those lessons.

Lastly, we still look for ways to have fun to help offset the natural stress that arises from working together. For example, we have played cards virtually by holding Euchre and Spades tournaments during the pandemic. In summary, we do a lot to build bridges – and knock down walls – at DMS. We believe that strong bridges between us are fundamental to building trust, and ultimately, the rate at which we improve and sustain performance will always be determined by the level of trust we have in each other.

Where is your favorite vacation spot and why?
I have traveled all over the world and don’t have a favorite spot. However, these places are high on my list: Santorini, Greece; Ha Long Bay, Vietnam; Iceland; Kruger National Park, South Africa; and Prague, Czech Republic. Prague is sentimental because I proposed to my wife there on the Charles Bridge.


Industry Update: West Michigan CEO Roundtable

On May 18, MICHauto in partnership with The Right Place, hosted the West Michigan CEO Roundtable to talk about key issues impacting the automotive and mobility industry.

MICHauto’s Executive Director Glenn Stevens Jr. and The Right Place’s President and Chief Executive Officer Randy Thelen kicked off the meeting with a highlight of the strong partnership between MICHauto and The Right Place, which values all four corners of the state.  Joined by 14 top executives, MICHauto gave an overview of the changes the state has seen in the last 14 months relative to the pandemic, electrification, and attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

Key discussion points included MICHauto’s 2021 Policy Agenda and top-of-mind concerns addressed in the 38 legislative meetings hosted during MICHauto’s Capitol Conversations in April. Effects from the COVID-19 pandemic continue to result in lower-than-normal workforce numbers, with high absenteeism and decreased likelihood for some workers to return any time soon. Questions also continue to revolve around vaccine policy and expected protocol for businesses amid return-to-work.

One key point of discussion was MICHauto’s upcoming Industry Branding Campaign that will pilot in early June. While this effort may not impact today’s absenteeism challenges, the campaign’s goal is to increase awareness about automotive and mobility careers as growing, global, high-tech, and inclusive. Promoting this new narrative to retain and grow our industry workforce across the state is a series of young professionals who are passionate about their contributions in a rapidly evolving industry. The campaign is based on direct feedback from high school focus groups, including Kent Technical Career Center marketing students lead by Kirk Helferich, and will begin as a grass-roots social campaign.

Michael Robinet, executive director of IHS Markit Advisory, shared the latest market data and timing expectations for electrification. While the U.S. is seeing unprecedented levels of low inventory in the field due to the ongoing semiconductor chip shortage, 2021 is expected to signal continued broad-based recovery. Emerging in 2021 will be four new BEV platforms from GM, Lordstown, Rivian, and Tesla. It is currently projected that EVs will account for almost 55% of North American light vehicle production share by 2040.

The session wrapped up with an open discussion lead by Justine Burdette, vice president of technical services for The Right Place and regional director of the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center – West, and closing remarks from Stevens and Thelen.

3 Things Michigan Businesses Need To Know About Changes In Mask Rules

The CDC guidance now says, “fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.”

Gov. Whitmer and the CDC’s respective announcements are a testament to the efficacy of vaccines in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Michigan businesses have long recognized the importance of vaccines as a critical component of an economic recovery. A March survey from the Chamber showing that “81% of respondents agree the vaccine will be important for their company to return to “normal” business operations, with 55.2% stating they strongly agree it will be important.”

The Governor’s announcement Friday said the following about the expected new Order, “Under the updated MDHHS Gatherings and Mask Order, Michiganders who are outdoors will no longer need to wear a mask regardless of vaccination status. While indoors, fully vaccinated Michiganders will no longer need to wear a mask, but residents who are not vaccinated, or have not completed their vaccinations, must continue to wear a mask or face covering to protect themselves and others. After July 1, the broad indoor mask mandate will expire.”

Key Considerations for Businesses Now

Under the new MDHHS order business do not need to require patrons to wear a mask if they are vaccinated, and enforcement is primarily left up to the honor system. The Governor’s announcement is welcome news for businesses; however, there is still a degree of ambiguity that needs to be resolved as the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MISOHA) Emergency Rules remain unchanged. The Chamber and MICHauto fully expect changes to the Emergency Rules that will reflect updated CDC guidance.

Currently, as of April 2021, the Emergency Rules require:

  • Mask mandates for all employees, regardless of vaccination status: “The employer shall require face coverings to be worn when employees cannot consistently maintain six feet of separation from other individuals in the workplace and consider face shields when employees cannot consistently maintain three feet of separation from other individuals in the workplace.” And “The employer shall require face coverings in shared spaces, including during in-person meetings and in restrooms and hallways.” (Rule 7)
  • Social distancing for all employees, regardless of vaccination status: “The employer shall keep everyone on the worksite premises at least six feet from one another to the maximum extent possible and to reduce congestion, including using ground markings, signs, and physical barriers, as appropriate to the worksite.” (Rule 7)
  • Industry-specific requirements regarding masks and social distancing for customers and patrons, regardless of vaccination status: Applies to restaurants and bars, retailers, libraries, museums, health care, personal-care services (barbering, cosmetology, tanning, massage, etc.), public accommodations (sports and entertainment facilities), gyms, and casinos. (Rule 9)
  • Quarantine and isolation requirements for all employees regardless of vaccination status. (Rule 6)
  • Remote work requirements regardless of vaccination status. “The employer shall create a policy prohibiting in-person work for employees to the extent that their work activities can feasibly be completed remotely.” (Rule 5) As of May 24, according to the Governor’s “MI Vacc to Normal” plan, businesses in all sectors may resume in-person operations. This is based on a vaccination-related milestone set by the state that this change will take place 14 days after 55% of Michigan residents have received their first vaccine dose.

The Chamber and MICHauto will continue to monitor updates that impact business throughout the region.


Michigan Offices Can Reopen on May 24 as State Hits 55% Vaccine Target

Where You Can Get Your 12- to 15-Year-Old a COVID-19 Vaccine in Michigan

Employers say they can’t find workers. Here’s who’s leaving Michigan’s labor force and why


Detroit Free Press

By Adrienne Roberts

An executive of a workforce agency can’t find enough workers to meet employer demands. Meanwhile, the founder of a nonprofit has a surplus of professional clothing and a lack of job seekers to donate them to.

These are just two examples that highlight what economists say is a mismatch in Michigan’s job market. Employers, both in Michigan and across the country, say they can’t find workers to fill open positions.

It’s no wonder. The labor force in Michigan — a measure of people who are working or actively looking for work — is declining.

Michigan’s labor force was down 4.4%, or 215,000 workers, in March compared with the same month last year, according to the most recent data available from the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget. That’s compared with a 1.3% drop nationally in that same time period.

“We’re struggling to meet employers’ needs, there’s no question about it,” said Greg Pitoniak, CEO of SEMCA Michigan Works!, a nonprofit that provides job seekers in Wayne and Monroe counties with training and support.

Where have all the workers gone?

Michigan’s labor force participation rate going into the COVID-19 pandemic was low compared with the labor force participation rate of other states, said Pat Cooney, the assistant director of economic mobility at Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan.

Before the pandemic, in January 2020, the state’s labor force participation rate was 61.7%, lower by at least a few percentage points compared with other Midwestern states.

That is in part because of the loss of goods-producing jobs during the Great Recession, many of which were in the automotive industry. And some of those jobs still have not come back, he said.

The automotive industry is a huge employer in Michigan — it directly and indirectly supported nearly 684,000 jobs in 2019, according to a recent report from the Detroit Regional Chamber’s MICHauto group — but economists say there are thousands of jobs in that sector that have permanently vanished.

The manufacturing sector was down 43,000 jobs, or 7%, in March compared with March 2020, according to state records. That’s likely impacting Michigan’s labor force participation rate, said Cooney, given the industry’s importance in the state.

But he and other economists say this economic recovery will be led by the return of jobs in another industry: leisure and hospitality. In Michigan, jobs in that industry are down 17%, or 72,000, in that same time period.

“Our best economic tool right now is public health,” Cooney said. “Once we get to a point where there’s enough folks vaccinated and some of the fear about being in public abates, I do think that there will be this kind of resurgence in the service economy.”

Until then, some workers are sitting on the sidelines. Others are getting jobs in other industries.

Finding a new career

Luci Dorsette worked in the leisure and hospitality prior to the pandemic, as a server at a restaurant in Center Line. She was let go soon after the restaurant closed for dine-in service early on in the pandemic under the state’s stay home order.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Dorsette said. The 35-year-old Detroit resident is formerly incarcerated, and said she needed to work in order to get custody of three of her five children.

She filed for unemployment benefits but wasn’t receiving them long before getting a temporary job at Walgreens.

“This (pandemic) could be over at any time,” Dorsette said. “They can cut those (unemployment) benefits. And then what do you have?”

After her temp job ended, she got a job in May at the fast food restaurant Checkers but quickly learned that she wouldn’t be able to move up there and become a manager because she had been incarcerated. She started looking for other jobs again.

In November, she was hired as a graphic designer at Bags to Butterflies, a transitional employment program in Detroit where formerly incarcerated women design handbags for sale and are offered mentorship.

Now, she’s enjoying her more-typical 9-5 schedule and is enrolled in online graphic design classes at Independence University.

But many workers weren’t able to find work so quickly in another industry.

Obstacles for would-be employees remain

“There are so many barriers,” said Alison Vaughn, founder of the Detroit nonprofit Jackets for Jobs, which offers career skills training, employment etiquette and professional clothing to job seekers.

Vaughn said there are some long-standing issues — such as a lack of transportation and professional clothing — that have made gaining employment difficult. Those issues, coupled with more generous unemployment benefits and a lack of child care options, have resulted in more people not working.

“The reality is that I can get paid more money sitting at home watching TV, and being with my kids, instead of hustling out there taking two or three buses to try to interview for a job that’s only going to pay less,” she said. “So why go through all that work (to get a job)?”

Those defined as being out of the labor force could be collecting unemployment benefits because claimants haven’t been required to report their work search efforts to the state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency, a labor department spokesperson said.

That requirement was waived at the beginning of the pandemic through an executive order by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer when businesses across the state shut down.

That requirement will be reinstated later this month, the spokesperson said.

Still, Vaughn said she’s not sure whether people will rejoin the workforce when that happens. She hears of concerns about potential exposures to COVID-19 that come with public-facing jobs, especially in the Black community, where Black workers are more likely to be hesitant about getting the vaccine. Nearly a third of white Michigan residents have received both doses of the vaccines, compared with a fifth of Black residents, according to the state’s COVID-19 vaccine dashboard.

She said job seekers are having to pivot to find a job in a new industry, which can be scary.

“The last job that they have is no longer, so now they’re having to think about a new career,” Vaughn said.

Pitoniak said he’s seeing some mismatch in skill sets. For example, he said demand is very high right now for welders, industrial mechanics and truck drivers.

‘The people that maybe are unemployed aren’t necessarily a good match for those positions,” he said.

Pitoniak said one potential reason people are out of the labor force is that they’re taking classes or training in order to prepare for a career switch. Receiving unemployment benefits is allowing them to do that.

He’s hoping that a positive that can come out of this pandemic is that more employers will offer work-based learning — paid training on the job for candidates who may have a good work ethic and attitude but don’t have a specific credential or skill set.

“There are many people who can’t take time off to get a credential because they can’t afford not to work,” he said.

Pitoniak also said he’s hearing of employers reviewing their qualification requirements to make sure they’re not overstating what they need.

“Employers are looking at work-based learning to get them the credentials they want, and they’re looking at making sure that their job postings reflect the actual credentials that are needed,” he said.

That’s crucial because being out of the labor force for too long can hurt both the worker and the economy.

“It’s almost like starting from scratch,” Cooney said of a job seeker who has been out of work for a significant amount of time. “The long-term impacts (of being out of work) are really terrible. Folks who are out of work for too long, that can kind of become a barrier to reemployment itself.”

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Michigan Offices Can Reopen On May 24 As State Hits 55% Vaccine Target

Michigan hit its first vaccination benchmark Monday in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “Vacc to Normal” plan. This plan ties rolling back COVID-19 restrictions to residents getting their first dose of a vaccine.

As of Monday afternoon, 4,455,395 Michiganders had received at least the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Under Gov. Whitmer’s “Vacc to Normal” plan, the administration will allow in-person work for all business sectors to resume two weeks after 4.44 million residents, or 55% of the adult population age 16 and older, have received their first dose.

“Two weeks from now, we can take the first step on our path to get (back) to normal,” Gov. Whitmer said Monday in a tweeted video. “On May 24, all workplaces will be allowed to return for in-person work. And we’re able to take this step forward thanks to every Michigander who has gotten their shot.”

Michigan hit this mark faster than previously anticipated in large part because state health leaders announced Friday they have changed the data they use to determine the statewide vaccination rate. Michigan is now using state data and information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that tracks Michiganders who received the vaccine in other states, federal prisons, Veterans Affairs hospitals, and through the Department of Defense.

Back to the Office

The Detroit Regional Chamber and MICHauto both advocated for data-driven guidelines that would allow for a safe return to the office for Michigan workers. In a Feb. 19 letter, the Chamber joined business groups from across the state to advocate for in-person work.

“Offices are some of the most controlled, low-risk environments in our state. Masks can be worn whenever employees are not in a private space. Cleaning methods, social distancing, and daily health checks can be implemented in an employer-monitored setting and our employers are prepared. From Grand Rapids to Lansing and Detroit, empty office buildings have a damaging impact not only on productivity, innovation, collaboration, and mental health, but also has put an incredible strain on our communities.”

A return to the office will be welcomed by the automotive industry, as in-person work with designers, engineers, and project managers improves collaborative outcomes. Representing Michigan’s signature industry, MICHauto sent a letter to the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) Return-to-Office Workgroup on office reopening in March.

“The automotive industry requires constant innovation, and it functions best when design, engineering, and program management are done together in person. The industry is at a critical transformation point, and the competition from global players and new industry entrants has not subsided during the pandemic. American and Michigan-based auto/mobility interests cannot risk falling behind at this critical juncture. Failure to accelerate our creativity and innovation now will have irreversible negative consequences for Michigan’s economy.

What Comes Next

Sean Egan, COVID-19 workplace safety director for LEO, outlined what this means for business in a statement, “MIOSHA is in the process of reviewing both the emergency rules and draft permanent rules as the state meets and exceeds certain vaccination rates. MIOSHA’s rule-making is flexible in that the agency has the ability to modify or rescind all or parts of each rule set to best protect Michigan workers as the pandemic moves closer to ending.”

Current COVID-19 emergency workplace rules direct employers on a variety of issues including employee safety training, sick employee reporting, face mask use, and social distancing. As employers look to transition workers back to the office, the Chamber and MICHauto have compiled a series of resources to support the safe return to work.

What Business Need to Know About Reopening Their Offices Spaces

MIOSHA’s COVID-19 Guidelines for Offices

What Businesses Need to Know About Vaccines Before Returning to the Office