Stabenow touts better training for trades in visit to UP

Northern Michigan University President Fritz Erickson, left, talks to U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, right following a workforce discussion at the Jacobetti Complex on NMU’s campus in Marquette. (Lisa Bowers photo)

ISHPEMING — U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow concluded her week-long series of workforce discussions throughout Michigan at Northern Michigan University’s Jacobetti Complex, continuing to focus on what can be done to fill the demand for skilled workers in the state.

Stabenow, co-chair of the Bipartisan Senate Manufacturing Caucus, told a group that included local business and labor leaders, educators from NMU and area school districts, and students and parents that more professional career and training opportunities are needed for high school graduates who don’t choose a four-year college path, as well as workers who want to be retrained.

“I want to bring people together to find out how I can help federally,” Stabenow said. “Certainly I support funding, but also just getting the word out. There are a lot of great choices for students once they graduate from high school.”

The third-term Democrat, who is up for re-election next year, hosted a half-dozen events across the state to discuss workforce issues.

Stabenow said the round-tables have allowed her to gather feedback toward reintroducing her New Skills for New Jobs Act.

The proposed legislation, which stalled when she originally introduced it to the Senate in October 2015, builds on successful job training partnerships between community colleges and local businesses to help close the skills gap and support businesses that are ready to hire.

It would let community colleges offer free training for growing employers that add new jobs. The schools would recoup their costs by capturing the new employees’ income taxes.

Stabenow said one choice for high school graduates is a four-year degree. But the focus on the skilled trades offers other options as well.

“The National Association of Manufacturers said that in seven years we are going to see 3.5 million new manufacturing jobs and 2 million of them will go unfilled across the country,” Stabenow said. “So if we want to drive our economy in Michigan and be ahead of things, we need young people that want to make things and build things, having the opportunity and the exposure to see a great job.”

NMU, along with local business leaders, have developed ways to reach out to middle and high school students, Stabenow said.

“First of all, there are great things being done here, and people work together,” Stabenow said. “The intermediate school districts and the career tech centers are doing a great job. There’s obviously local support because people are willing to support local millages. Northern is a great leader in all of this.”

NMU President Fritz Erickson said the roundtable discussion also will help keep NMU’s programs headed in the right direction.

“We have to share the message that these are great jobs and great careers. We need to share that with kids that are in middle school and high school, but also share it with their parents so that they also understand,” Erickson said. “From a Northern perspective, it’s something that we need to do a better job at — sharing everything that happens in the Jacobetti Complex — because these are wonderful programs, and we need to help people better understand what we’re doing.”

Stabenow also had a community discussion in Ishpeming earlier in the day regarding the benefits of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, specifically for Deer Lake and the Lake Superior shoreline.

“What I have been doing is going around Michigan highlighting successful projects funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative,” Stabenow said. “Because the Trump Administration wants to zero out all the funding to protect the Great Lakes, I am working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to push back and make sure that doesn’t happen. But part of what we have to do is focus on ways in which funding has made a real difference in the community.”

Stabenow referenced locations all over the U.P. that have benefited from the GLRI.

“We have in this community McCarty’s Cove and you can drive all around here, where at one point the beaches were not clean enough to be able to swim, and because of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and partnering with the local community, we now cleaned those up,” Stabenow said. “Pictured Rocks — same thing; there have been millions of dollars spent to clean up the areas to protect the shoreline, to protect needs for Pictured Rocks.”

Congress returns from a recess this week.