Dave Meador, left, is the co-chair of the Mayor’s Workforce Development Board and retired vice chairman and chief administrative officer at DTE. Nicole Sherard- Freeman, right, is the group executive over Jobs, Economy & Detroit At Work Program, City of Detroit.
Leaders in Detroit’s workforce development are hopeful at the growth rate of employment for residents as the numbers climb closer to pre-pandemic levels and are expected to continue rising.
“Last I checked, there were about 12,000 open [job] opportunities at Detroit At Work,” said Nicole Sherard- Freeman, group executive over Jobs, Economy & Detroit At Work Program, City of Detroit.
Detroit At Work is a city initiative focused on preparing job seekers in Detroit to meet and get hired by prospective employers, from small micro-businesses to corporations.
In 2021, Mayor Mike Duggan launched Detroit At Work’s Skills For Life, a $75 million three-year initiative designed to provide up to 2,200 Detroiters with financial support to build their skill sets and remove educational barriers to employment.
“The opportunities are across several high growth, high demand industries. There’s construction and related trades, manufacturing, including auto with internal combustion engine and EV work, and our suppliers, healthcare, IT, and now we consider small business its own industry to carve out and invest.”
Sherard-Freeman said roughly half of the residents in Detroit are working for small businesses, making investment in this sector a vital part of our city’s continued economic growth and neighborhood economic development strategies.
“There is no shortage of opportunities for Detroiters,” said Sherard- Freeman. “One of the measures of success or progress is resident employment.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate as of August 31, 2022 in the Detroit area is at 7.4 percent.
Tracking this year’s trend, the number dropped from 10.1 percent in June 2022 to 8.1 percent in July 2022.
Compared to previous years, the unemployment rate was at 16 percent in July 2021 and at 28.6 percent in July 2020.
“We are up to 227,000 Detroit residents employed,” said Sherard-Freeman. “That doesn’t just mean employed in Detroit, just employed anywhere. And that number was up from 224,000 in June. So that’s only 4,000 or so off from our pre-pandemic high…the numbers are trending up.”
Overcoming Barriers to Employment
Dave Meador is the co-chair of the Mayor’s Workforce Development Board and retired vice chairman and chief administrative officer at DTE.
The Board is designed to help carry out the administration’s priorities in the workforce by engaging hundreds of service professionals across Detroit At Work Career Centers to support employers and potential employees alike by identifying and removing barriers.
“Some of them [barriers] that we’ve taken on are statewide issues,” said Meador. “Auto insurance reform, for example, was a barrier. Another one was expungement reform. One of the biggest barriers is just connecting businesses to people and vice versa. It’s ironic right now where people are looking for a job, they can’t find it, and employers can’t find people.”
Working closely with Sherard- Freeman and the team at Detroit At Work, Meador said large-scale employers looking to expand their operations in the city, such as Amazon, have reached out seeking a large quantity of workers with particular skill sets.
The Board works with hundreds of employer partners in Detroit, the largest being Stellantis’ manufacturing plant on the city’s eastside along Jefferson Ave. and Connors St.
Job opportunities include Rush Trucking, a supplier-partner for the city’s three automakers.
“It’s been multiple projects that have added up to thousands,” said Meador. “So, when you put all of this together, we’ve put in our 30,000 people into jobs. We have a [10 year] long-term goal of 100,000 people finding work.”
New job openings are available for Detroiters coming into the workforce from all skill sets and background experiences.
Looking to the future of the labor force and rising industries, Meador and Sherard-Freeman agree that tech-related work with less education requirements is where the current generation of jobseekers need to have their sights set.
“Changes are taking place in the workforce, with automation and otherwise,” said Meador. “If you went to even the auto companies, they have jobs that previously required college degrees and they are methodically going through all their positions right now. It might have been required at one time, but it’s not required now. “
For example, General Motors is currently offering the GM ASEP program as a “high school plus” hands-on job training initiative and apprenticeship for technically inclined students pursuing a career in the field.
“We in Detroit, we are a region, and across the state of Michigan,” said Sherard-Freeman, “and consistently as a nation, need to be ever more aggressive with getting residents ready for advanced mobility opportunities in STEM or STEM-related careers. We’ve got to figure out how we keep pace with technology advancements across a whole host of industries.”
As the city continues to emerge from the economic lows of the pandemic and coupled with the costs of inflation, Meador and his colleagues in the city’s leadership in workforce development are confidently leaning toward continued growth and opportunities for residents.
“We are now back within a stone’s throw range of where we were pre-COVID and at that point we had experienced multiple years of growth, “said Meador.
“We measure workforce participation on unemployment because unemployment alone doesn’t tell the real stories, so we look at work force participation. We are pretty close to where we were pre-COVID and then next year will surpass that [and is] projected to continue to grow.”