Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist talks about the IT skills gap, workforce diversity during visit to HFC
Michigan's Lieutenant Governor, Garlin Gilchrist II, and several other civic, business, and community leaders visited Henry Ford College on June 17 to discuss closing the skills gap in IT and STEM fields, and increasing the proportion of underrepresented minorities in these fields.
Joining HFC President Russell Kavalhuna and Lt. Gov. Gilchrist were U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, State Rep. Abdullah Hammoud, State Senator Sylvia Santana, Secure24 Senior Vice President of Strategy Nick Ilitch, Secure24 COO Paul Bhatti, KLA Laboratories President/CEO Matthew O’Bryan, Wayne County Commissioner Sam Baydoun, Dearborn City Council President Susan Dabaja, American Arab Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Fay Beydoun, other business partners and dignitaries, members of the HFC Board of Trustees, the HFC Foundation Board, and HFC faculty, alumni, staff, and students.
The skills gap discussion was brief but robust. HFC industry partners and students shared their experiences in education and the workforce, and talked about the unique value a community college can bring to the table as a partner with businesses and with government.
“We need to consider the interests, needs, and economy of the future,” said Lt. Gov. Gilchrist. “We need to lay down a track for technology fields, so everyone will benefit, no matter what their professional path. I am excited to support this kind of effort.”
Gilchrist, who served as a software engineer for Microsoft, noted that “harnessing technology to solve problems will play an integral role in closing the skills gap and improving the lives for people across the state of Michigan.”
Planning for Michigan's future
The Lieutenant Governor also amplified Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s proposals for the Michigan Reconnect program and the Michigan Opportunity Scholarship. Governor Whitmer visited HFC in March to talk about her vision for the state, and closing the skills gap.
Michigan Reconnect is a workforce development program that would provide a tuition-free pathway to an industry certificate or associate degree for Michigan adults over the age of 25. The Michigan Opportunity Scholarship would offer a way for graduating high school students obtain a postsecondary credential, with tuition-free education at a community college or two years of tuition assistance at a four-year university.
“We have an aggressive goal to reach 60% of our workforce with a post-secondary credential,” he said. “This is one of the ways we will set Michigan apart.”
Other leaders also contributed to the discussion, including Paul Bhatti, Secure24 COO, who spoke about some of the Secure24 employees who have gone through HFC programs and succeeded. “It is not the technology that inspires me,” he said. “It is the stories of the people who lead the way.”
Representative Debbie Dingell also amplified the need for a sustained, skilled workforce. “Not everyone needs a four-year college degree,” she said. “You might have heard the story about the doctor who called a plumber to his house. The plumber quickly fixed the problem and gave the doctor his bill. When the doctor saw the $400 bill, he said, ‘Wow! That’s more than I make!’ The plumber replied, ‘I know. I used to be a doctor.’”
The leaders noted that there will always be a need for people with traditional degrees, but a large proportion of the unmet need in today’s workforce is in the skilled trades, which can lead to high-paying, satisfying careers. Students should be aware of all their options.
The student connection
After the discussion, Gilchrist and the leaders toured HFC’s Electrical Technology and Robotics Lab; watched student robotics demos; and spoke to students from the HFC Black Male and QUEENS Focus Group, an academic, social support, and advocacy network that is leading the way in bringing students of color to leadership positions across all fields. The group is led by Dr. Kalvin DaRonne Harvell, a sociology faculty member at HFC, and Chardin Claybourne, a faculty member in the Learning Lab.
“It was a great honor have Lt. Gov. Gilchrist, Representative Dingell, and so many other partners and leaders visit our College and meet our students,” said President Kavalhuna. “We are proud to showcase our students’ skills, talents, and passion for what they are doing. We are proud to lead the way in innovative workforce and education partnerships, and we continue to invite others to join us in this work.”