Adult ed — more important than ever

Peter Ruark

We’ve all heard about how bad Michigan’s economy is, and how we have to attract more employers to the state and create an environment that is conducive to entrepreneurism in order to create more jobs. All true!

But what is often left out of this discussion is that businesses can’t thrive in Michigan without skilled workers, and that any investment in Michigan jobs must include an investment in workforce development.

Gone are the days when young adults could plan on getting a job in the automobile industry right after high school graduation. Today, it is nearly impossible for someone with no postsecondary education or skilled work experience to obtain an entry-level job that provides decent pay and opportunities for promotion.

Not only should high school students have postsecondary plans in place, but dislocated workers should be thinking about upskilling in order to make themselves more marketable in today’s work environment.

So far, so good. There are plenty of trade schools and community colleges in the state for those who plan to enter or further a career in the trades, and financial aid programs and No Worker Left Behind are in place to help them afford it.

The problem is: What about the many workers whose math, reading, or literacy skills are too low to be able to enter into and succeed in a postsecondary vocational skills program?

That, of course, is where adult education comes in. A strong adult education system will prepare students for the rigorous skills training they will need to undergo in order to get jobs that are in demand in today’s job market.

Even jobs in traditional sectors such as automobile repair, manufacturing, and building construction require a higher mastery of technological skills than they did two decades ago.

Yet Michigan has actually decreased the amount of money it is investing in adult education. Michigan spends 28 percent of what it did in 2001 and only 11 percent of what it did in 1996! And accordingly, program enrollment is 63 percent lower and program completion is 53 percent lower than in the 2001-2002 school year. (See this new League analysis to find out more.)

Obviously, less investment means less workers helped. Michigan’s Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, the state’s community colleges, representatives from the K-12 system, advocacy organizations (including Michigan League for Human Services), and other key players have been meeting for several years to improve Michigan’s delivery of adult education through the formation of innovative programs and regional partnerships.

The state adopted the recommendations put forward by the group. However, it needs to back up the new ideas with funding. Keeping adult education allocations at barely over a quarter of what they were several years ago is not the right direction for Michigan to be going. Let’s dedicate more state funding for adult education.

— Peter Ruark

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