Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Rick Snyder's Missing "C"

Gov. Snyder believes that the state needs to make an effort to attract talented workers to Michigan:
"There are three 'Cs' that are critically important. Collaboration, creation and connection. Collaboration is about working with the private sector to say 'what are your needs today and tomorrow?' The second 'C' is about creating talent, that's the education sector, about giving people the tools to be successful. Finally, connecting those tools."
First and foremost, in terms of attracting and keeping talent, Snyder is missing the most important "C" - compensation. Instead he substitutes determining the needs of the private sector - which I expect translates roughly into, "Getting whatever workers we need for the lowest possible compensation," the opposite of what attracts and retains talented workers. He draws on Econ 101, picturing the job of government as changing the point at which the supply curve (workers) crosses the demand curve (what employers want) - but doesn't really explain what he would do to change the point at which the two lines intersect beyond mentioning a state-run jobs bulletin board. I'm no economist, but here's a nice refresher course on supply, demand and market equilibrium, and the importance of price in eliminating a market shortfall.

Snyder comments on the jobs board, "we have over 60,000 open jobs... and these are good jobs". Not that it's a scientific test, but here's what I just found on that board:
Asparagus Harvester
Todd Greiner Farms Packing, Llc

Job Code Number: 4015674

Job Description: Involves hand-harvesting the asparagus crop while riding a self-propelled personnel carrier. Employer needs 5-7 workers per group. Asparagus harvest will begin around May 1st, and will continue through approximately mid-to-late June. Hours vary between 45-55 hours per week (based on weather and other occurrences beyond employers control). Wages: Piece rate= $0.14 p/lb. for processing and $0.16 p/lb for fresh market. Employer guarantees Michigan minimum wage or $7.40 p/hr. Some licensed housing is available depending on group size. No bonus.
Here's the thing: I didn't go searching through the jobs board for the worst job listed at the worst pay.1 That job was featured on the front page of the website, the very first job listing under the heading "Featured Jobs".

Other featured jobs include driving a truck for an apple orchard, working as a quality inspector (high school diploma or GED required) with no corresponding job listed through the opportunities section of the company's website, working contracts through a staffing company that sends workers to companies throughout the nation, working as a project manner for a technology company that has a broken job search function on its own website.... I ran a few searches, attempting to filter for the better jobs, but didn't see much that hinted at Michigan's future, let alone a large number of job openings that are unlikely to be filled if the employer is willing to pay the compensation the market demands.

Snyder came out of Gateway computers, so he should have a pretty good sense that even with the best "account management" or "collaboration", no government can save a company from itself. No doubt, Gateway could have used better talent in its later years - but in management, not on the assembly line. Snyder continued to serve on the Gateway board during its final decade of decline, prior to its acquisition by Acer, and briefly served as interim CEO during that period, so he should have a pretty good idea of what a poor job even talented, motivated managers and bean counters can do in terms of anticipating a company's future needs and turning around a declining company. When we talk about running government like a business I'm not sure what business we have in mind, but it's not Gateway.

It's also fair to ask, what can the state actually do in terms of boosting the education sector. Under Synder's tenure the primary "education" focus of the legislature has appeared to be, "How to weaken teacher's unions, reduce their compensation and benefits, and boost for-profit charter schools," which to me doesn't appear to reflect deep concern for the quality of public education. State colleges continue to feel a budget squeeze. If I look at his actions, the governor appears to share the philosophy of the state legislature. How will Michigan's present education policies create talent and, to the extent that it does, why would that talent want to stay in the state? Even if they can find a job on the job search board, many talented graduates going to do what Snyder did - chase the best job, even if it means moving to another state.

Snynder has not fully unveiled his plans, but he did say this:
“We have a number of action items that we’re still putting together and will be rolled out soon. Particularly we’re looking at working within regions at talent connection and making sure that skilled trades are an emphasis.”
That suggests to me that Snyder seeks Michigan's future as involving lower-paid factory jobs. That interpretation seems consistent with the actions of Snyder and the legislature, from its treatment of schools and teachers to the legislative shenanigans behind making Michigan a "right to work" state, but it's the sort of emphasis that seems likely to keep Michigan's most talented graduates looking for jobs in other states, and will keep the best-paying jobs in those other states.
1. Before you accuse me of cherry picking, I'll note - that job is listed as well, and it also guarantees no more than minimum wage. If you want me to cherry pick, we need to move up to the type of salary John McCain once suggested.

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