MACKINAC ISLAND - Business and higher education chimed in together Thursday to call for stronger ties between the working and the learning worlds to help Michigan compete in the newly arriving high skill - high wage economy.
Outside the standing-room-only presentation at the Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conference, a member of the Michigan Education Association collected signatures on posters to win new converts to the Your Child Coalition.
With 60-plus names on the poster-size signup list, MEA spokesperson Margaret Trimer-Hartley said the campaign for new commitments was going "not too badly."
The coalition of business, education and family groups organized in 2004 to embolden connections between working, learning and a strong state economy.
The group took the conference's occasion to unveil its latest survey to draw attention to Michigan education.
The latest poll, conducted by Lansing's EPIC/MRA and by Your Child and The Detroit News, found that just slightly better than half of Michigan employers are satisfied with the quality of workers coming out of the state's high schools.
"We have got to be more engaged in this," said presentation panelist Judith Miller, president of Western Michigan University.
The study, she said, also showed that Michigan businesses unhappy with the quality of high school graduates in the hiring pool were also the least likely to hire credentialed people. "Very few are stepping forward," she said.
Michigan business place a higher value on education than parents have claimed in earlier Young Child studies, but "still have a long way to go to practice what they preach," Miller said. Businesses too seem unlikely to push employees higher up the education ladder, she added.
She urged businesses to expand partnerships with colleges and universities, to serve as mentors or tutors and to "make your home a place of learning."
Mike Schmidt, director of Education and Community Development, for Ford Motor Company, also urged businesses to play a greater role in education. "We as employers have to engage in the conversation," he said.
He called for fostering greater innovation and creativity that goes beyond core educational requirements. Business should look at what students should know, what teaching should be like and what high schools should look like.
Education should be academically rigorous, he said, and focus on critical thinking, teamwork, communications, self-direction and systems thinking. Students should learn how to select the technology they need for the task and at, understand the relevance between what they learn in class and what is necessary at work and should learn how to apply classroom lessons when they are on the job.
Ford is already putting those lessons to work in classrooms at Henry Ford Academy, Schmidt said. The academy enrolls 440 students in grades nine through 12 with classes within the historic buildings at Henry Ford Village.
Ford employees act as curriculum content advisers, welcome job shadowing and work with teachers and students. A new effort is now set to get spread the word about the program beyond the academy, he said.
CONSUMER POWER: The key speaker at the chamber's general session on Innovation: Job Creation and Michigan's Future cited manufacturing advances as crucial to the state's success, and note that in the global marketplace the U.S. is home to greatest consumers and also the greatest borrowers.
Women especially are driving some of the buying forces, said Deborah Wince-Smith, president of the Council on Competitiveness, to a morning presentation packed with the lobbyists, legislators and business leaders registered at the chamber's Mackinac Island policy conference.
"Demand driven innovation is the name of the game," she said, adding that the so-called "knowledge economy" has now been supplanted by the "conceptual economy."
Among the innovations she cited: the merger of manufacturing and services into "solutions providers", the fusion of knowledge and technology, the movement to high-value manufacturing, desktop manufacturing, production "slicing," nanoscale manipulation of matter and product design on high-performance computers.
"We say to out-compute is to out-compete," she said.
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