The one thing State Sen. Mike Kowall says he understands that not every student leaving high school is geared for a four-year college degree. He also has heard first hand from businesses about their difficulty in finding skilled people to hire.
"That's one of the resounding things I hear – companies and manufacturers talking about the lack of skilled workers," said the White Lake Township resident who represents the 12th Senate District. "Michigan has 65,000-75,000 unfilled jobs because of the lack of skilled people."
Kowall was among a group of state lawmakers a representative from the Michigan Department of Economic Development who recently toured Wayne-Westland's William D. Ford Career Technical Center to see the training that's provided for students and adults.
Hosted by School Superintendent Greg Baracy, Principal Steve Kay and Assistant Principal Sue Wilk, the group included State Sens. Glenn Anderson, D-Westland, Patrick Colbeck, and Hoon-Yung Hopgood, D-Taylor, as well as State Rep. Robert Kosowski, D-Westland, who received a tour of the facility courtesy of the students.
According to Anderson, the onsite visit stemmed from a conversation Kowall had with Baracy in Lansing. Kowall asked Anderson about the center "and I told him to come and see the amazing things they're doing there," Anderson said.
"They're doing training you see at the community colleges," he said. "The William D. Ford provides different levels of training for these folks. We have a need for skilled tradesmen. They're doing phenomenal things at the center."
18 training programs
Built in 1981, the career technical center offers 18 distinct technical training programs. Each program has state-of-the-art equipment, technology and instruction to prepare high school and adult learners to gain skills directly related to the goal of employment.
The tour highlighted some of the classes and technology being used. Michigan is a test site for automated motor vehicles and the students showed off their Innovative Vehicle Design that they showcased at the North American International Auto Show in January. Automated vehicles are able to sense their surroundings and navigate without human input.
The center has competed in IVD competition through the Square One Education Network for more than 10 years. It has won state honors for an electric Thunderbolt II vehicle students designed and built and was named a Center of Science and Engineering Excellence in 2007 by the Convergence Education Foundation.
"Michigan wants to become the hub for autonomous vehicles," said Kowall. "That's going to be $1 billion for the auto industry, but they need the skilled workers."
Both Anderson and Kowall agree that not every student leaving high school is geared for four years of college. There is a need to encourage the students who aren't headed for college to move into other careers.
"It's terrific, if they have a master's degree or a PhD, but who's going to build our buildings," said Kowall, who is a cabinet maker by trade. "I have a friend who's a plumber and has done very well for himself. He makes over $100,000 a year. By all intents and purposes, he's very successful."
Anderson pointed out that when support for adult education declined it decimated that program at the center. The state's new rigorous high school curriculum also has had an impact. But the center has fined tuned its programs, dropping some classes and adding others, like EMT training, to rebuild enrollment.
"The one thing about the career tech center, I think, is that it is underutilized by business," he said. "It could be used to train employees. There are definite different levels of education for these folks and using the center can minimize the cost. There are careers that don't need a two-year college. The center can offer advanced training for some so they can move into a career."
Kowall was so impressed with the center that in a conversation with Anderson on the floor of the Senate he said that Gov. Rick Snyder and more folks from the MEDC need to visit it.
"The things they teach are things that need to be learned, that's why I went there to see it," he said. "I want to see what we can do as state government. I can't say enough good things about the center."
"I'm hopeful he'll do what he says," Anderson said of the governor visiting the center. "I hope he will get him down here. No worker can be left behind and as the governor said, career tech can do it quicker and for a lot less."