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.”

View original article here

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

With Eye on Future, MSU Forms Mobility Advisory Council

By Jim Irwin
May 04, 2021

More than 50 faculty members from seven colleges at Michigan State – including Social Science, Engineering, Communication Arts and Sciences and the Eli Broad College of Business – are collaborating and will be active with the new council.
Michigan State University forms the MSU Mobility Advisory Council to help guide the university’s vision for the future of mobility.

Experts from eight mobility-oriented organizations will serve on the council, positioning Michigan State to gain valuable insight and perspectives of future industry and societal needs and the types of research and projects the university could support.

“This council will have a big role in helping us identify new projects as well as prioritize our mobility-related research and academic offerings, which is a core focus at Michigan State University,” Satish Udpa, interim director of MSU Mobility and a University Distinguished Professor of electrical and computer engineering, says in a news release.

Participating council members, in addition to Udpa, include:

  • Dan Garrison, Office Managing Director for Detroit, Interactive Global Delivery Lead & co-lead, Accenture Quantum Computing Program for Accenture, and Clint Crook, Client Account Lead for Accenture.
  • Paul Thomas, executive vice president-original equipment sales, Robert Bosch LLC
  • Bethany Tabor, electric vehicle customer programs manager of PowerMIDrive and PowerMIFleet, and Jeff Myrom, director of Renewable Energy & Electric Vehicle Customer Products, CMS Energy
  • Robert Hubbard, Americas NBC channel manager of Cisco’s Smart Communities & Energy Business
  • Bill Frykman, director of City Solutions North America, Ford
  • David Gorsich, chief scientist, and Denise Rizzo, senior research mechanical engineer, U.S. Army Ground Vehicle Systems Center
  • Glenn Stevens Jr., executive director, MICHauto and vice president of Automotive & Mobility Initiatives for the Detroit Regional Chamber
  • Frank Weith, director of Connected & Mobility Services and president of Ventic LLC, partly owned by Volkswagen Group of America

Michigan State is conducting a wide range of research projects to help further position Michigan as a mobility hub, with a concentration on first- and last-mile initiatives and technologies.

More than 50 faculty members from seven colleges at Michigan State – Social Science, Engineering, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Communication Arts and Sciences, Law, Natural Science and the Eli Broad College of Business – will be active with the new council.

Ultimately, the council will help MSU Mobility leaders determine which research projects should be expedited; opportunities to refocus existing projects; and new programs the university could undertake to best prepare the university and its surrounding communities for the future.

MSU Mobility seeks to transform the university’s 5,200-acre (2,100-ha) campus into a live, connected ecosystem to advance smart-vehicle technology and better understand the human element.

With a range of urban, suburban, industrial and rural zones, featuring nearly 60 lane miles (97 km) of roads, Michigan State’s controlled infrastructure and active campus make it ideal to test emerging technologies for new mobility solutions, the university says.

To learn more about mobility at Michigan State and the university’s ecosystem approach, visit mobility.msu.edu.

View the original article.

MICHauto Investors, Legislators Discuss Return to Work, Hands-Free Driving Policies During 2021 Capitol Conversations

MICHauto’s 2021 Capitol Conversations connected industry representatives from OEM’s, suppliers, and service industries with 38 legislators and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office over the weeks of April 19 and 26. MICHauto investors were able to discuss a variety of topics with legislators regarding their priorities and concerns for the industry in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Return to work remained a top issue for industry representatives throughout the conversations, as participants expressed the collaborative benefits of in-person work and their confidence in maintaining a safe and healthy work environment for their employees. Other workforce-related issues, including absenteeism and unique challenges facing working families (e.g. at-home K-12 learning), were also frequent topics of discussion.

Participants also provided legislators with an update on related federal and international issues, explaining their struggles with supply chain and microprocessors, immigration and talent, and federal relief funding, and expressed their support for hands-free driving legislation that is currently being considered by the Michigan House of Representatives.

In addition, participants addressed concerns related to FY 2021-22 budget negotiations, including their support for successful programs such as the Going PRO Talent Fund and Michigan Reconnect Program, as well as new proposals like the $25 million “Michigan Futures” Fund that would invest in emerging technologies, related infrastructure needs, and long-term strategic planning for the industry.

MICHauto continues to engage with legislators on these and other relevant issues alongside industry advocates and legislative leadership, including the legislative Auto Caucus co-chairs. Investors who wish to engage in these ongoing efforts can contact Jason Puscas at jpuscas@michauto.org.

CEO Spotlight: Continental Structural Plastics’ Steve Rooney

Steve Rooney is the chief executive officer of Continental Structural Plastics. MICHauto spoke with Rooney about his priorities and motivations as an automotive executive.

What is your number one priority as CEO?
My number one priority is to keep our people safe and healthy, along with protecting our environment. Along with that, today we are looking closely at ways that we can be more inclusive and diversified, especially in our middle and upper management positions.

Over the past several years, we have been working hard to shift Continental Structural Plastics’ culture to one that is focused specifically on implementing efficient, safe processes and procedures in all of our facilities. I want to be sure every employee goes home safely to his or her family at the end of every shift, every day. We are getting very near to achieving world-class safety performance company-wide, but I remain very steadfast in my commitment to achieving zero injuries, every day, in every facility.

When the pandemic hit, my number one priority was to be sure that our employees were safe and healthy. We were very proactive in establishing new safety policies and protocols for our facilities that would provide as safe of a working environment as possible. We introduced staggered schedules, implemented new work processes to ensure social distancing, enforced mask-wearing, and introduced regular cleaning, disinfecting, and even deep cleaning practices when needed. My COVID-19 Task Force has been monitoring the situation globally for more than a year now, and we continue to make localized adjustments as needed to protect our teams from the virus.

With regard to the environment, we are always looking for ways to make our operations as environmentally friendly as possible. We’re also looking at a full life cycle analysis of our products, and we’re investing in R&D to find the best, most efficient ways to recycle our thermoplastic materials. We’re especially interested in processes that allow us to capture and reuse the glass and the resins that are involved in compounding our composite materials.

When it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion, I think it’s safe to say we’re just getting started, but I know it’s important and I’m encouraging my teams to keep making progress. I had my executive team go through the Executive Level Set training with CADIA a few months ago, and I think that really helped to open our eyes to why this is not only important but how it will absolutely benefit the organization as a whole as we bring more diverse perspectives to the table.

What would you tell young professionals about our automotive industry to keep them in Michigan?
I think young people don’t realize what an exciting and challenging industry this is. It is evolving at an incredibly rapid pace. It is no longer a business of just building cars. We are building mobility. Vehicles that are smart with a lot of technology involved. Propulsion systems are changing, and there’s real opportunity there. We’re moving toward an all-electric future, but have we really even perfected the EV battery, or charging? What other means of propulsion can we be looking at aside from pure electric?

All of this change means tremendous opportunity. There are opportunities for software engineers, mechanical engineers, chemists, electrical engineers, designers, people in marketing, sales, IT, HR, communications.  So many different skill sets are needed that there really is opportunity for everyone. The industry is ripe for new ideas. It is so different than it was 10 years ago. The opportunities to grow, learn, and expand your horizons have never been greater.

What advice do you have for the next generation?
You know, I give my kids advice all of the time, but I don’t know how much they’ve ever really listened. Now that they’re 35 and 37, they actually think I’m smart, but when they were in their 20s, they didn’t listen so much.

So, here’s my advice: the world is an ever-changing, dynamic place. It is critically important to stay up to date on what’s going on in the world, understand the changes taking place, and find good ways to be a positive influence in the areas that matter to you. In other words, how do you fit in and where can you provide real value to society, your company, and to those in your personal, inner circle?

It’s not always about money. It’s about being happy and providing value.

What is your favorite car and why?
My favorite car was a 1967 Ford Mustang convertible. It was turquoise blue, had mag wheels, and a three-speed floor shifter. I bought this car in 1976, spent a year fixing it up and drove it for a few years before I sold it. That was the first, really cool car I ever had.

I didn’t keep it because it was stolen while I was going to school in Boston. About three months later I got a call from the police to come pick it up from the impound lot. All the axles were snapped, and the wires pulled it out. It was a total loss. I couldn’t afford much in the way of insurance then, so I had to sell it. But it was a really cool car!

Data Highlight: Detroit Regional Dashboard

The Detroit Regional Chamber and the Detroit Regional Partnership jointly released the Detroit Regional Dashboard, a regional measurement tool that tracks changes in critical economic and social indicators, such as economic growth, business climate, talent, education, community, and infrastructure, to identify roadblocks to development and increased prosperity. The Dashboard serves as a catalyst for strategic change and collective action, ensuring the Detroit Region continues to move forward as a thriving and equitable community. Measuring changes in these areas that impact sustainable long-term growth and success will help increase economic competitiveness and quality of life.


The dashboard was created through a collaborative effort between the DRC and DRP’s research teams. As leading organizations in the region, this dashboard represents cross-organizational teamwork to promote and grow the Detroit region.

Click to explore the interactive dashboard.

Michigan State University establishes Advisory Council to further accelerate MSU Mobility’s vision

April 27, 2021


By Caroline Brooks

Michigan State University announced today it has assembled the MSU Mobility Advisory Council to help guide the university’s vision for the future of mobility. With experts from eight respected mobility-oriented organizations taking part in the council, MSU is well positioned to gain valuable insight and perspectives of future industry and societal needs and the types of research and projects that MSU could support. Additional members may be invited to join the council in the future.

“This council will have a big role in helping us identify new projects as well as prioritize our mobility-related research and academic offerings, which is a core focus at Michigan State University,” said Satish Udpa, interim director of MSU Mobility and University Distinguished Professor of electrical and computer engineering. “We are grateful to all council members who have committed to dedicating time to this group; this council will be a truly valuable asset and we look forward to the in-depth and thought-provoking conversations and insight that will be shared.”

Most companies have one member supporting the council, but in some cases, there are two members designated per company, with participation based on availability.

Participating council members, in addition to Udpa, include:

·       Dan Garrison and Clint Crook, Accenture

·       Paul Thomas, Robert Bosch LLC

·       Bethany Tabor and Jeff Myrom, CMS Energy

·       Robert Hubbard, Cisco’s Smart Communities and Energy

·       Bill Frykman, City Solutions North America, Ford

·       David Gorsich and Denise Rizzo, U.S. Army Ground Vehicle Systems Center

·       Glenn Stevens Jr., MICHauto and Automotive and Mobility Initiatives for the Detroit Regional Chamber

·       Frank Weith, director of Connected and Mobility Services and Ventic, LLC of Volkswagen Group of America

Currently, MSU is conducting a wide scope of significant research projects to help further position Michigan as a mobility hub, with a concentration on first and last mile initiatives and technologies. More than 50 faculty members from seven colleges at MSU — social science, engineering, agriculture and natural resources, communication arts and sciences, law, natural science and the Eli Broad College of Business — are working collaboratively to advance MSU Mobility initiatives and will be active with and benefit from dialogue of the new council. Ultimately, the council will help MSU Mobility leaders determine which research projects should be expedited, identify opportunities to refocus existing projects and develop new programs the university could undertake to best prepare the university and its surrounding communities for the future of mobility.

The council’s first meeting took place virtually on April 23.

About MSU Mobility

MSU has transformed its 5,200-acre campus into a live, connected ecosystem to advance smart-vehicle technology and better understand the human element. With a range of urban, suburban, industrial and rural zones, featuring nearly 60 lane miles of roads, MSU’s controlled infrastructure and active campus make it ideal to test emerging technologies for new mobility solutions.

Spartan Mobility Village is home to MSU’s mobility labs where roadways and parking lots can be closed for testing of new technologies. In the future, unoccupied buildings will be used as a background for sensing technologies, including radar clutter simulating the suburban and urban environment.

To learn more about mobility at MSU and the university’s ecosystem approach, visit mobility.msu.edu.

View original article here

Discover Auto: HELLA Virtual Tour

On April 15, MICHauto along with partner Square One Education Network held a virtual Discover Auto tour featuring HELLA. Students, teachers, and guidance counselors were in attendance from all over the state of Michigan, including Detroit, Macomb, Kalamazoo, Grand Ledge, Ann Arbor, Grayling, and the Upper Peninsula.

The event began with an introduction from Square One, an overview of MICHauto, and background on how MICHauto’s program coordinator, Jenny Orletski-Dehne, began her career in the automotive industry. Participants watched a pre-recorded video from HELLA, lead by Madison Kielty, marketing analyst for HELLA, which included a compilation of short career overviews from employees such as Joerg Weisberger, chief executive officer; Evan Pavlick, global sales director; Karthik Devaraj, business development manager for advanced engineering; and Carissa Silas, marketing specialist.

Following the presentation, students were able to ask the HELLA participants questions in a live Q&A. Questions included:

  • How have you adapted to the current working environment?
  • Is it difficult working on mechanical parts for cars, such as brakes and wheels, and what kind of education do you need?
  • How can foreign language skills help in the automotive industry?

Through the virtual tour, students were able to learn about various career opportunities right in their backyard. This event was the first in a series of virtual Discover Auto tours with Square One. Below are the dates and links to register for upcoming tours.

If you know of any teachers or students who would like to get involved in an upcoming tour, please share the links below.

Omron: https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJIlcuupqzgrHtHixEF6yCh0XEcU3p-EzHTr?fbclid=IwAR2imnLlIWixdP3YKzJyrAAawjn_x5Xn2HOMIutt92nNSBiJAlGX-cOH4kk

Brose: https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJMrce-qrjgiGdY-TF-YZ6s4RRO08o14_eCB

MICHauto Supporters Among Automotive News PACE Awards Finalists

MICHauto extends congratulations to investor companies and supporters Continental Structural Plastics, HELLA, Faurecia North American Inc., Lear Corp., and Nexteer Automotive, which have been named finalists for the 2021 Automotive News PACE Awards.

The five companies are among 31 finalists for this distinguished recognition.

View the full announcement on Automotive News.

In Case You Missed It: Executive Session with John Murphy

On April 20, MICHauto hosted an Executive Session for CEOs from the MICHauto community, featuring John Murphy, managing director and head of U.S. Automotive Equity Research for Bank of America Global Research. Murphy shared insights with Glenn Stevens Jr., executive director of MICHauto, and industry executives about the current automotive market dynamics.

Catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Murphy says that while the U.S. automotive cycle may have hit a trough in 2020, sales have made a remarkable V-shaped recovery since mid-2020. Other dynamics have contributed to a stable, yet uncertain market, and some bumps are expected in the short-term with a four-to-five-year window of recovery to 17 to 18 million units. China and the U.S. are outpacing Europe in terms of recovery, but ongoing supply chain disruptions could contribute to a downward slide in global production and sales this year, with a likely recovery in 2022 and beyond.

Despite uncertainty, OEMs are demonstrating a commitment to product activity for development of new electric vehicles (EV) and crossover utility vehicle (CUV) models. These product efforts are increasingly directed towards powertrain advancement, with a surge in EV model launches by both incumbents and new automakers. Within the forecast horizon, it is expected that 50% of powertrains will be internal combustion engines (ICE), with the growth of EVs, hybrids, and fuel cell options.

Now is a pivotal point in the automotive industry and companies must remain diligent in optimizing their core business, while also investing in the future to ensure long-term sustainability and market position in the face of emerging auto-tech companies.