Higher education is key to a better job

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(Carrie Rosingana is the CEO of Capital Area Michigan Works! Visit www.camw.org to connect with the Capital Area Michigan Works! team for assistance with career exploration or staffing needs. Capital Area Michigan Works!, a partner of the American Job Center Network, offers services in Ingham, Clinton and Eaton counties at its Lansing, St. Johns and Charlotte American job centers.)

As Michiganders lost their jobs during the pandemic, there was a rise in need for skilled workers in many industries. It pains me to say it, but many who lost their jobs will find it hard to replace them at the same level, all while employers in high demand industries — such as agribusiness, health care, IT and manufacturing — are struggling to find talent.

Why? We have a crisis-level mismatch in college enrollment, workers with college degrees and jobs that can support a person or family.

Our postsecondary education attainment levels — 49.1% in Michigan, according to the Lumina Foundation — haven’t kept up with the steep rise in demand for highly skilled workers. Individuals seeking work don’t have the skills needed to meet employers’ needs. And it’s not getting better.

Michigan’s postsecondary institutions are seeing lower enrollment. According to EducationData.org, 22.5% fewer students were enrolled in Michigan colleges as of March 2021 than a decade prior.

The math is simple in theory. The more education you have, the higher likelihood you have to work a salaried job with benefits and higher salary. According to the 2021 ALICE report, if two adults worked the most common occupation in the state, a retail salesperson, at its median hourly wage of $11.78, they would not make enough to cover household essentials.

Yet, postsecondary education is a significant undertaking. Long before I was a CEO, I worked directly with unemployed and underemployed individuals within our agency to help them overcome the challenges preventing them from finding, securing and keeping jobs that could support them and their families. I sat across my desk time and time again with people in dire circumstances, and often there was no easy path forward without addressing education as a foundation within their next steps.

To ensure a stable income and benefits, individuals need postsecondary education, and I know that can feel insurmountable for those who need it the most. 

But it’s not without hope. There are a wealth of resources if you know where to look — and I’m here to help you know where to look. Capital Area Michigan Works! and our state partners offer support such as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, Skills to WorkFutures for Frontliners and Michigan Reconnect programs. Our partners at LEAP support entrepreneurs looking to grow and develop skills to create stronger futures for themselves, and to create jobs for others. The Michigan College Access Network leads networks across the state — including the Capital Area College Access Network — in supporting students and adults interested in exploring postsecondary options and funding.

No matter the path you take, we need Michiganders to continue their education beyond high school.

Higher education attainment is integral to Michigan’s success and prosperity, but more importantly, it’s integral to individual and family success and prosperity. While our economy is facing a college enrollment crisis, many are facing their own crises, but you are not alone.

Together, we can change the course for our economy, and our families.

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