Based on previous interviews I have conducted with various individuals inside the professions of teaching, nursing, social work and policing; a picture of various labor shortages and strains upon the system comes into clear focus. To place those shortages into perspective, I performed academic literature reviews to assemble relevant data in order to frame this discussion. According to the US Census Bureau's July 1, 2021 population estimate, approximately 10,050,811 people live in Michigan. MI School Data reports that 1,443,456 students, including 194,514 with disabilities are enrolled in school for the 2021-2022 school year.
To contrast this population information, MI School Data also lists a workforce of 100,635 teachers, along with 13,971 listed as substitutes and aides for the same year. When you consider that the average reported by Autism Alliance of Michigan and the CDC is 1 in 68 children in the US are reported to have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), it's easy to surmise that the total potential population of ASD children in Michigan (both diagnosed and undiagnosed) is close to 21,227. This likely under-representative figure reveals a larger population of special needs students than employed and qualified aides. It's important to note that ASD students require extra educational support to succeed and benefit from one on one aide support.
In the year 2018, the Citizens Research Council of Michigan reported that Michigan had 137,541 licensed nurses and the MDHHS reported that the state's Children’s Services Agency employed 3,816 staff including 3,336 field staff and 480 central office staff. A year later, an online publication called Social Work Guide reported that 24,000 social workers employed in the state in 2019. Finally, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy reported in 2019 that there are 588 law enforcement agencies, employing approximately 17,000 officers in the state of Michigan in 2019.
When these numbers are compared and contrasted against each data point, the argument that services from each profession not meeting demand is reinforced. As the next State Senator for District 33, I will propose what I am calling the Michigan Dream Initiative. This is a plan to ensure that everyone with a proficiency and a desire to become public service professionals can seek the necessary education and career training opportunities without being unduly obstructed by any insurmountable financial barrier to entry. This plan will be a phased in and will be a targeted career and job training assistance program, which will connect all relevant stakeholders, cut red tape from the financial assistance process, will pool together all previous assistance programs, and will integrate within the financial aid process in all academies, colleges and training institutions. Stage 1 of the initiative is planned to target the professions of teaching, nursing, social work, and public safety (Police, Firefighters and EMS). Future stages of the program will expand the target more qualifying professions and will ultimately expand the state's professional talent pool inside both public and private professions (ultimately becoming The Michigan Promise). This will fundamentally transform the quality of services provided statewide and will attract new investments from businesses from across the country, businesses that are seeking talented and technically advanced professionals to fill openings.
As a living success story for the Michigan Works No Worker Left Behind program, I understand how the removal of a financial barrier can transform a life and bring talented and capable people into a profession. As a success of that program, I recently achieved a career goal of more than 1,000,000 miles driven while directly supporting Michigan's economy. The program allowed for me to seek career training as a professional commercial truck driver and later that career enabled me to return to GVSU to pursue the completion of my degree. Stories like mine are possible, when Michigan makes targeted investments in people and build up professional talent pools. This is the goal of the Michigan Dream Initiative, to make investments in people, to bolster professional development and enable a better Michigan future for everyone. As the next State Senator for District 33, I will work to rebuild Michigan from the people up and help ensure that a better Michigan future becomes reality.
Mark Bignell is an alumni of Montcalm Community College and Grand Valley State University. He is a former Democratic Nominee for Michigan State Senate and current candidate.