Andy Levin Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth
Michigan has taken a lot of effort to understand the workforce and training needs of the electric vehicle sector, said Mr. Levin, acting director of the state’s Department of Energy Labor, and Economic Growth. The agency “is sort of like an Energy Department, Labor Department, and Commerce Department all combined in one,” he explained. “While that is a lot to keep track of, there are tremendous advantages in having the workforce capacity and energy capacity of the state working together in one department.”
Michigan’s effort is exemplified by the No Worker Left Behind Initiative, which Mr. Levin described as “the most aggressive workforce training program in any state of the nation.” Since the initiative began in August 2007, more than 135,000 Michigan workers have undergone for in-demand degrees and certificates, he said.
One need not meet the qualifications of federal unemployment insurance to qualify. If a person is unemployed, about to be unemployed, or even is working but has a family income of $40,000 a year or less, he or she is eligible for up to $5,000 a year or $10,000 for two years of free tuition and other support at any Michigan community college, university, or other approved training program. “This program has been so popular, and such a huge success, that we will have 60,000 people in training in the workforce program that started July 1 ,” Mr. Levin said.
Rather than training new workers, the focus is on “really up-scaling our workforce,” Mr. Levin explained. As many as three out of four participants are in training programs of one year or longer. Many are earning associate or bachelor’s degrees or using money to finish master’s degrees, he said.
Michigan conducted serious research on its “green economy” and “green workforce,” Mr. Levin said. “There is so much hype and so much fluff and so much vagueness about the green workforce,” he said. He noted that the department recently won a national award for “the best piece of labor-market demographic information research.”
The department identified and defined five green sectors, one of which is “clean transportation and fuels.” More than 6,000 Michigan employers returned surveys. The study found Michigan has 109,000 “real” green private-sector jobs, Mr. Levin said. Of them, 97,000 are direct jobs, such as welders making components for a wind turbine, he said. Twelve thousand are “indirect” jobs, such as janitors, accountants, or general counsel staff whose jobs wouldn’t exist without the green-production work. Green jobs accounted for 3 percent of private-sector employment in Michigan, he said.
Employment in the green sector is growing fast. Between 2005 and 2008, overall employment in Michigan’s private sector shrank by 5.4 percent, Mr. Levin said. Green employment grew by 7.8 percent, adding 2,200 new jobs, 700 of them in companies that did not exist in 2005.
A recent study found that 90.6 percent of the state’s clean transportation and fuels jobs are in southeastern Michigan, with a small but growing workforce in the southwestern part of the state. What’s more, 55 percent of green jobs in southeast Michigan are in clean transportation and fuels. This high concentration “is something you will not find in any other region of the United States,” Mr. Levin said. “That is how important this sector is to our economy.”
To train workers, Michigan launched a $6 million green jobs initiative in 2008 to work with employers, identify sectors, and create Michigan “skills alliances” in particular areas where employers want to train their workers, Mr. Levin said. One example is the Michigan Emerging Market Skills Alliance. It works with small tool-and-die companies and suppliers that must diversify. “Typically, they are one-trick ponies that supplied one company,” he explained. “And now they clearly need to diversify, often into batteries, wind, solar, and things like that.”
Another such program is the Michigan Academy for Green Mobility. It trains engineers for vehicle electrification, Mr. Levin said. “This is typical of what we do,” he said. “If employers don’t know about these things and are interested, talk to me. We want you involved in this.”
Sometimes public-private training programs are launched at the initiative of one company, he said. Executives of Ricardo Engineering met at the governor’s office around fours ago, for example. “They said, ‘We are going to need hundreds and hundreds of engineers who know how to work on hybrid and electric vehicles, and we ain’t got them. Not just Ricardo. The auto industry,’” Mr. Levin recalled.
State officials convened representatives of GM, Ford, and Chrysler, as well as Japanese companies and university officials. “We all struggled together about whether this is right and what we will do,” Mr. Levin said. The state asked employers to identify precisely what kind of training was required. “We are talking about engineers who already have bachelors or master’s degrees, or maybe even a Ph. Ds,” he said. Whether they had lost their jobs or were still working, they needed new skills to work on electrification.
Wayne State University and Michigan Technological University won competitive bids to serve as lead universities to run training programs. Three
hundred skilled workers have gone through the program so far, he said. Now the Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth is talking to battery manufacturing companies setting up in the state about training workers, he said.
Michigan has aggressively sought funding for training efforts, Mr. Levin said. The state won a $5.8 million training grant for the energy sector. He praised the MEDC for “developing the strategy for putting Michigan at the center of this electrification push.”
Mr. Levin said he wants companies in the electric vehicle industry “to know how much of the workforce capacity of the state is at the disposal of this effort.” The state wants employers “to come to the table to work with each other and figure out whether there is a baseline of training we need for our workers in the same market,” he said. “That is what we have been doing, and we want to keep doing with you all.”
Mr. Levin said he is glad the National Academies chose Michigan for this symposium. “I also am glad to see how far we have come and to see that people are really pushing through these discussions about how to grow this industry quickly and how to make this a real driver of Michigan’s economic resurgence,” he said.