Workforce Development: Associations stepping up workforce development efforts

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Acquiring and retaining top talent is a top priority for boosting Michigan’s economy. This is the finding of the recent 2014 Great Lakes Economic Outlook Survey ( conducted in partnership with 245 associations throughout the Great Lakes area. Although Michigan businesses, nonprofits, and government leaders disagree about the importance of many initiatives, workforce development is clearly on the top of virtually everyone’s minds.

This is true for positions requiring higher education as well as positions for skilled trades.

The need for a workforce with higher education was underscored when Governor Snyder announced in 2014 his plan to seek 50,000 work visas for Detroit over a five-year period. The goal of this program is specifically draw foreign workers with a master’s degree or higher (or comparable skills and experience) as part of an economic “national interest.”

However, the need for skilled trades is also high, and Michigan businesses have a sizable demand for it. Skilled trades makes up roughly 180,000 jobs in Michigan. Although this number is just 5% of the state’s workforce, the median hourly wage for a skilled trade is $21, compared to $16 for all other jobs in Michigan.

According to a June 2013 report ( by the State of Michigan Department of Technology, Management, and Budget, demand is up form all three types of skilled trades: industrial, construction, and services. Approximately 5,000 skilled trade jobs are available for qualified applicants, a figure that is up roughly 20% from the prior year. And while long-term growth for skilled trades through 2020 is below that of all other jobs (7.4% compared to 8.5%), short-term growth for skilled trades exceeds all other jobs (2.1% compared to 1.3%).

While Michigan’s economy continues to recover, the labor exchange system for both the educated workforce and the skilled trades workforce is being challenged to find talent for businesses who are seeking individuals with new and emerging skill sets. “The growing shortage of skilled workers threatens our economic competitiveness,” says the Governor’s administration.

To address this need, Michigan universities and associations are stepping up workforce development efforts to ensure that businesses are able to find talent that will help the companies thrive in Michigan.

To get a sense for workplace development that is happening in the Ann Arbor area, we spoke with two people who have continued to help prepare people for Michigan’s workforce.

David Castlegrant is Chair of the Marketing and Management Division and has taught classes in Entrepreneurship, Organizational Behavior, International Business, Marketing, and Quality Management. He is also responsible for the professional project curriculum and the professional project that is the capstone course for all graduating BBA seniors. Castlegrant has been with the university since 1991, and, in 1992, he founded David Castlegrant & Associates, a management and marketing consulting firm specializing in family owned businesses.

Gretchen Waters is the Executive Director of the Washtenaw Contractors Association. The mission of the Washtenaw Contractors Association (WCA) is to improve the construction industry in Washtenaw County and increase the success of WCA member firms by providing leadership in the areas of business development, workforce development, labor relations, communication and education. Two main programs for workforce development are the Construction Career Expo Internship and the Scholarship Program.

Q: Talk about your organization and its perspective on workforce development.

Castlegrant: Clearly University is committed to real-world application of business learning is exemplified in the balance I have between my position with Cleary University and my consulting business. My business is growing and has expanded to eight employees. Although I am a full-time instructor with Cleary University, the University actually requested that I continue with my consultancy so that I could continually be bringing real life application to the classroom. That’s the essences of what Cleary is all about. It’s application-based learning for our students.

Waters: Workforce development has always been one of the major objectives of our organization; one of the big picture things that we do on behalf of our members. One of the things that we have found over the years working with young people is that they are often not ready to enter the workforce, and preparing them for the workforce is not something that companies have the time or resources to do on their own. To think about the bigger picture of how to make sure that young people are getting information about our industry and its job opportunities when they are young enough to be thinking about what they should be doing in school is just something that individual companies can’t do. And that’s really why we, as an association, have taken on that role of looking at that big picture of workforce development.

Many of the people who are involved in the industry right now are reaching retirement age and we need to keep the pipeline of young people interested, even if the number of active employees in the construction industry isn’t as high as it was 20 years ago. We still have a need. There still are young people needed and there still are great opportunities, so we continue to feel that workforce development is an absolutely critical need and one that’s still a primary focuses of our organization.

Q: What changes do you see in the skills needed in the workplace?


One ongoing change is the rapid development and use of technology. There is so much new technology that going into every job. We try to give students at Cleary University an opportunity to work with the technology. Strictly through our online learning environment with our online classes there’s a lot of elements of technology they need to know they mastered the online classroom as a student. And we as instructors working with that and we have to provide a really good product so they can be successful in that environment.

In our marketing curriculum, at Cleary University, for example, I and a couple of other instructors and colleagues gutted the entire marketing program to put more of the elements of market intelligence, data mining, marketing metrics, social media, etc. They are hot terms in the marketing world. If you don’t understand them you’re never going to be successful in that field.

We try to do the same thing with our human resources curriculum. For our heath care management curriculum, we’re out there looking at industry groups and trying to gather data from these industry groups to see what are the most current topics. We are looking for what are the most current issues that we need to be teaching our students so that when they are in that field they have a good understanding foundation of knowledge so they can talk the talk and walk the walk with some job experience.


There isn’t a single industry that exists today that does not use technology to a tremendous degree in order to be successful. We’re not one of the buzzwords of high tech, but we are as high tech an industry as any other industry. Our industry involves more than just the people who physically build the building. Our industry also includes, for example, the architects that design the building and the engineers that do the engineering for the buildings, roads or bridges. It includes a whole host of what you would call kind of “office jobs” of the estimators, financial planners, managers, and other personnel people. To run a construction company you need all of those roles, and every one of those jobs has been changed dramatically by technology.

The person who is swinging the hammer may at the next moment be walking over to check a kiosk that has been set up at his construction site where all of the plants are available online at this portable kiosk that’s been set up. They are using the technology in a way that was never possible before, and so the technological skill level needed for people—whether they are swinging the hammer or designing a building—is very, very different from what it used to be. Technology is changing the way buildings are built and making it more efficient, and that includes everybody throughout the whole building process right down to that guy that’s holding the hammer.

Q: What does your organization do to help workforce development in Michigan?


We prepare students with hands-on experience in learning. In many cases a lot of our students are doing primary research where they’re doing feasibility studies for business ideas that they are thinking of doing after they graduate the university. They may, for example, develop a content test and go out there and survey the marketplace to see if the content test makes sense or not.

Sometimes students develop that content test, take it out to the marketplace, and then find out that it’s not necessarily a good idea. It’s interesting to hear their reactions. Initially they think, “This was a big failure.” As a project mentor, though, I often have to explain to them that was the purpose of the feasibility study. The information from the study is telling you not to go, so that’s a good thing. It means you might have to tweak your opportunity quite a bit before you find a solution that works. This is the kind of hands-on learning that Cleary University provides to its students.


One of the things we’ve done since 1998 is the Just Build It Career Expo. We rent Eastern Michigan University’s basketball arena and bring in exhibitors for all those areas that I talked about. We have the architects, engineering firms, and construction companies all there to talk about project management, estimating, etc. We bring in the apprenticeship programs from all the major skilled trades and we set up exhibits.

We also bring in colleges and universities that have programs that are related to construction or architecture or engineering. We set this all up in one day and we invite roughly 35 schools to come and participate. We average around 1600 kids. We’ve actually gotten so popular we have to limit our attendance now because it’s just too busy. It is an incredibly exciting day where students go through the exhibit area and they learn about all these different careers through hands on exhibits.

Q: What do you see going forward?


With more and more data available at our fingertips, managers will increasingly need to learn to leverage the data for good decisions. In the 1990s there was a big move toward quality management, and I think we still need to focus on that. But managers today – regardless of what business they have to manage – have to have data. They have to have and apply information so that they can make better informed decisions. I think it’s very important. You can’t manage your business by the seat of your pants anymore.

The other thing that is important is the fact we are a global economy. This has been true for quite some time, of course, but it just continues to grow in importance. Even the smallest of businesses may wind up interacting on a global scale. Our own experience with our small business is that we’ve got international customers now where five years ago that would never have been the case. As technology continues to develop, the global marketplace will continue to become a common business experience.


Whatever your industry, it’s very difficult for an individual business to focus on the long term employment needs of their own industry. That’s what associations are for. So my word of advice to businesses who are not in the construction industry is work through your associations to do something similar because we know individual businesses don’t have the resources or the time to do it on their own, but that what the associations should be doing. So if you’re not in the construction industry, you should be championing for your own association to do this kind of thing because the students really need it.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/4″][/vc_column][/vc_row]