In 2018, Kalamazoo released its strategic vision report — Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo, (SPK) which was the culmination of months of community focus groups and discussions led by the regional economic development organization — Southwest Michigan First. Among many things, SPK laid out a vision of workforce development and opportunity for the entire region. It’s that vision that brought together an amazing group of players to tackle the Skills Gap in the local Kalamazoo region:
· City of Kalamazoo government agencies led by Mayor Bobby Hopewell to review/revise processes and programs to eliminate the friction and thus enabling folks in Kalamazoo to find work, start businesses, and thrive in the Skilled Trades
· Kalamazoo Regional Education Services Agency to support the nine regional school districts providing the programs and resources to facilitate introducing and training local students in the Skilled Trades
· Michigan Works! Southwest and the W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research to access Michigan State resources and employment services to provide the data and other resources to ensure programs are delivering measurable and repeatable results
· Kalamazoo Promise to enable Kalamazoo public school students to go to Michigan state colleges and technical school nearly free-of-charge — all funded by local philanthropists
· Urban Alliance’s Momentum program to help folks who deal with some combination of either having criminal pasts, or have substance abuse challenges, or are otherwise unemployable due to homelessness or poverty-driven issues, to find great jobs and thrive in the Skilled Trades
· Southwest Michigan First — a privately funded economic development organization that is committed to the belief that “the greatest force for change in a person’s life is a well-paying job.” As such, it aggressively promotes practical, industry-driven programs and initiatives without needing to make political accommodations.
· Kalamazoo area employers like Humphrey Products to work hand-in-glove with each of the other players to ensure the people are getting trained for roles and positions that actually have openings and then stand ready to hire the available workforce
A Well-Paying Job: The Greatest Force for Change in a Person’s Life
Kalamazoo’s vision of a shared prosperity — where everyone who wants a well-paying job has a pathway to attaining that job — is absolutely possible through personal responsibility and community commitment. As Ron Kitchens, CEO of Southwest Michigan First, said, “Focus on making those well-paying jobs plentiful and attainable in a local community and everyone wins — one individual at a time. That individual will have a family or loved ones that immediately benefit, along with their neighborhood, their community, and the businesses they frequent, and so on. Now, multiply that impact out. Everything gets better when someone gets a better paying job.”
Replicating the Kalamazoo Formula
Imagine taking the Kalamazoo formula, localizing it to the special quirkiness of each town across the US, and executing to close the Skills Gap on a local level. This is an all-hands-on-deck type of thing for each community — large and small. This is “mission critical.” As Dave Mauer, president of Humphrey Products, put it, “We need to work together — right now — to make this happen while the economy is strong. We need to take advantage of this time while employers across the country are dealing with a tight job market because it won’t last forever.” Employers have budgets for educating, up-skilling, and re-training, that will disappear with the first signs of a broad downturn.
Mike Rowe has done an incredible job over the last few years shining a spotlight on the Skills Gap and its growing impact on all of us. With his show “Dirty Jobs,” Mike showed us all the great folks out there doing the work that allows for the quality of life that we all enjoy. With his mikeroweWORKS Foundation, Mike puts his name, time, energy, and fund-raising prowess toward helping young people get needed training and to help close the Skills Gap.
But, Mike Rowe can only do so much. It’s long past the time when the rest of us have needed to step up to pick up the slack. Kalamazoo is certainly doing its part. They set an incredible example — leaving their egos at the door and busting through barriers to progress. Now, it’s time to take Kalamazoo’s example on the road and replicate it one community at a time to turn this into a tidal wave nationwide.
Sounds dramatic and a big ask, right? So be it. This the United States of America. This is the future that we deserve. Let’s follow quirky Kalamazoo’s example, take dramatic purpose and unrelenting action to close the Skills Gap. Like I said, this is an all-hands-on-deck type of strategy.
Hearing It in Their Own Words
Rather than have me describe further how Kalamazoo has come together attack the Skills Gap, I’d ask you to listen to the folks who are actually making it happen.
· Listen to how Kalamazoo, Michigan, under the leadership of Mayor Bobby Hopewell, has marshalled the resources and gotten a number of great organizations and truly committed folks to work together to help close the Skills Gap in their region. Please click here.
· Listen to the Superintendent of Kalamazoo Regional Education Service Agency and how it supports the special education and Career & Technical Education programs, and other programming needs of nine school districts in the Kalamazoo. Please click here.
· Listen to how the Momentum program — offered through Kalamazoo’s Urban Alliance — has helped more than 200 folks rise above their issues with criminal pasts, homelessness, substance abuse and extreme poverty and trained them with the skills to help them find great jobs in the Skilled Trades. Please click here.
· Listen to how the Kalamazoo Promise is a pledge by a group of anonymous donors to pay up to 100 percent of tuition at any of Michigan’s state vocational schools, colleges, and universities for graduates from Kalamazoo’s public schools. Please click here
· Listen to how Michigan Works! Southwest, in conjunction with the Upjohn Institute, works closely with the City of Kalamazoo and a number of committed organizations in the area to make a tremendous impact on closing the Skills Gap for the region. Please click here.
Industry Source: Juan Carosso – CEO at At Your Best (AYB), author of the AYB book series and host of the Skilled Trades Playbook podcast. Both the book series and the podcast are designed to help folks build great careers & futures in the Skilled Trades.