Free Tuition to Grow Talent?

Crain's Detroit Business Print Version

June 20, 2014

Michigan has more than 70,000 openings on the state job board, mitalent.org. About half, says Amy Cell of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., are STEM-related.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a shortage of 274,000 STEM workers in Michigan by 2018—a combination of an aging and retiring workforce and an uptick in the economy.

At nearly every business forum—from the Detroit Regional Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conference to last week's The Big M Manufacturing Convergence, produced by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers at Cobo Center—finding talent is a headache for employers.

Maybe Walter Maisel has The Big Idea. Maisel, a mathematician and electrical engineer, is CEO of Kostal North America, a Germany-based auto supplier with a local headquarters in Troy.

As a panelist discussing shortages of workers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics— commonly known as STEM—Maisel suggested Michigan do what the German state of Bavaria did during the period when Maisel was searching for options beyond his family business of farming: It offered free tuition for people studying to be engineers.

Maisel took advantage of it. So did hundreds—thousands—of other Germans. And Maisel says two things happened: Bavaria became a magnet for companies that needed engineers, and the rest of the country adopted Bavaria's model and offered free tuition for disciplines beyond engineering.

"Students only had to pay living expenses," Maisel said last week. "Why can't we apply that program here?"

It's something that state policymakers and university decision-makers might consider. But where would the money come from?

Maybe we need a "Michigan Promise" for STEM fields—modeled on the college tuition guarantees created by a community trust in Kalamazoo for graduates of Kalamazoo Public Schools.

It could pay off for Michigan, Maisel says. "Now Bavaria has well-known European companies who choose to have facilities there. There are many engineers."

Two other relevant points from last week's Big M summit:

First, employers have become accustomed to hiring people "ready to work" without on-the-job training. Actually, the trend among manufacturers—the benchmark—is to spend more than 3% of budget on internal training.

The second, made by the SME's Jeannine Kunz, is that companies that are terrific at managing supply chains need to "manage relationships with schools and higher education like they would other suppliers." If you got a faulty part or poor quality, you would take it up with the supplier—or choose a different supplier.

Good advice for companies hiring interns and entry-level talent.

Mary Kramer is publisher of Crain's Detroit Business. Catch her take on business news at 6:10 a.m. Mondays on the Paul W. Smith show on WJR AM 760.

Copyright © LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.  
Terms and Conditions    Privacy Policy

Quality News Today is an ASQ member benefit offering quality related news
from around the world every business day.

ASQ is a global community of people passionate about quality, who use the tools, their ideas and expertise to make our world work better. ASQ: The Global Voice of Quality.