Oct 20, 2022 - Axios Events

Developing the Next Generation of Workers: Detroit

Attendees enjoyed breakfast at the discussion.

Attendees enjoyed breakfast at the discussion. Credit: Shaleena Cole

On Wednesday, October 19, Axios hosted an Expert Voices roundtable discussion in Detroit, Michigan featuring local leaders across economic development nonprofits, government and education. Guests shared their perspectives on the future of workforce development in Detroit, from growing entrepreneurship to spearheading innovation in the area’s tech economy. Axios business reporter Nathan Bomey and local Detroit reporter Annalise Frank led the conversation.

On the current state of the workforce

Attendees shared their motivations and strategies for improving economic development and competitiveness in the region and training the next generation of workers to excel in a whole variety of skill sets.

Clarinda Barnett-Harrison speaking to the roundtable group
Clarinda Barnett-Harrison speaking to the Axios roundtable group. Credit: Shaleena Cole
  • Trevor Pawl, chief mobility officer for the State of Michigan: “When I think about STEM talent, that’s still a priority, but I want designers, I want financial geniuses as part of the mobility ecosystem in Michigan going forward. And I just don’t want automotive talent. Give me consumer goods, the future of wearables is the future of mobility. I want health care, defense, aerospace.”
  • Clarinda Barnett-Harrison, Michigan Central’s director of skills: “What we’re talking about is building an entire ecosystem. So this is multifaceted. It’s both entrepreneurship and making certain that we have the right kind of talent that we can attract here, or grow founders here, that are prepared to innovate, to co-locate with us at Michigan Central, to really ensure that we are the mobility hub for the world.”
  • Blake Woolsey, chief communications and development officer for Heartland Forward: “In 2016 there was an election, and whether you leaned red or whether you leaned blue, what I think we recognize is there was a silent majority in the middle of the country that knew that something needed to happen. You could look at it and you could say, there is something going on and these people do not feel heard…our purpose is to help improve the economic performance of the middle of the country.”

On moving beyond the two-track system of skill trades versus college

During the discussion, several participants highlighted the importance of giving the next generation of Michigan’s leaders more career and skilling options, and expanding the two-track system of expectations for students to pursue either skill trades or college.

Congresswoman Debbie Dingell speaking to the Axios roundtable group.
Congresswoman Debbie Dingell speaking to the Axios roundtable group. Credit: Shaleena Cole
  • Congresswoman Debbie Dingell: “We need the skill trades. We have a habit when we talk about talent to always be snobbish, and we need the skill trades more than anything, they’re going to be critical to the success. And we need to quit saying everybody’s gotta go to college, this is what everybody needs…we can do without more lawyers, but think about doing without an electrician, or a plumber. We’ve got to change the attitude on skill trades.”
  • Anika Goss, chief executive officer of Detroit Future City: “What concerns me about one or the other, so trades or college, is that I feel like in Michigan we’re not very good at either. So then what we end up doing is trapping kids that are mostly kids of color, mostly from low-income communities, to trades. And then continuing to steer upper income white young people to college, and higher ed…I really think we have to think about this more holistically.”
  • Rochelle Riley, director of arts and culture for the City of Detroit: “I want a plumber who can quote Shakespeare. I want somebody who is going into welding but who absolutely has some sense of the classics. My fear is that if we do this in a two-track system you’re going to have people who aren’t really engaged in the rest of the way we live…what we have to do in my opinion is make sure that they know of all the jobs and opportunities that might fit with something that they’re talented at.”

Thank you Heartland Forward for sponsoring this event.

Go deeper