Members of a broad coalition have urged Republican Bill Schuette and Democrat Gretchen Whitmer to focus on boosting talent and job skills among Michigan students and workers in their gubernatorial debate on Friday night.
In a letter to the two candidates for governor, the Michigan Higher Education Attainment Roundtable (MIHEART), a non-partisan group consisting mostly of business and education leaders, called on Schuette and Whitmer to establish post-high school education and training as the “No. 1 public policy priority” for Michigan.
Because the 7 p.m. debate, which will take place in the WOOD-TV studio in Grand Rapids, will last only one hour, the number of topics that will be discussed is limited. The debate will be televised by various stations across the state.
“Michigan has many important priorities that matter to our economic future and our people,” the coalition wrote in their Tuesday letter. “But as we shared in our recently released report, Total Talent, we believe that nothing is more central to our ability to create jobs, attract jobs, and help the state’s residents find economic security than equipping everyone with a post-secondary credential and the skills needed for success in the Michigan marketplace.”
In his final State of the State Address in February, term-limited Gov. Rick Snyder proposed a $100 million plan to close the state’s “talent gap” and prepare young people for jobs of the future that do not require a 4-year university degree.
The Snyder administration projects up to 811,000 job openings through 2024 in fields facing worker shortages that pay, on average, $60,000 a year. The outgoing Republican governor has focused on community college certifications, scholarships, apprenticeships and partnerships between schools and businesses to link classes and curriculum to skills needed in the workforce.
The business community has warned that the state suffers from a lack of skilled workers to fill jobs in manufacturing, health care, building trades and other fields.
Those who signed the letter to the candidates represent K-12 education, community colleges and universities. Private sector representatives include Business Leaders for Michigan, the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, DTE Energy and nonprofit groups. Others signing on to the plea included officials from the state Department of Education and former state Board of Education president John Austin, as well as retired Gen. Thomas Cutler, former adjutant general of the Michigan National Guard and commander of the Selfridge Air National Guard Base.