For the past 40+ years, Michigan's fate has been one where talented Michiganders have moved away to pursue lives and dreams elsewhere. Other states have attracted talent from Michigan through scholarships, sign on bonuses and programs to cover relocation expenses. Currently Michigan is languishing through talent shortages in several professional careers, that support the public and provide crucial services. This is our opportunity in Michigan to rise to the challenge and work to solve the state talent drain, revitalize training and retention programs, improve public professional salaries, boost funding to public universities, repeal the state pension tax and repeal taxes on retirement income.
In order to solve the talent drain and reverse the shortage on various professions, we must first create an environment where those proficient and willing, want to fully dedicate themselves to these professions. Then, we must reduce the barrier to entry into these professions to a level that is both sensible and attainable for those desiring to enter the professions. Lastly, we must create an environment where the freshly trained and certified professionals will want to remain a part of our communities. In several stories that will proceed this introduction, it will become evident that there are shortages across the professions of policing, nursing, child welfare work, social work, and teaching. Each of these professions have their own challenges in meeting societal goals and maintaining services, however, there are many common challenges that exist between all of them that we can solve through bold comprehensive policy reforms.
In a story I read by the Michigan State Medical Society, in a joint public statement from Pino D. Colone, MD, president of the Michigan State Medical Society, and Julia Stocker Schneider, PhD, RN, CNL, president of American Nurses Association – Michigan, in response to the growing nursing shortage across the country calls on public officials to take thoughtful deliberate action to address the nursing shortage and the root problems at the core of the problem. Then I learned in a conversation I held with a representative with the Michigan Nurses Association, that the shortage is being exasperated by lackluster occupational safety in the workplace standards, poor patient to nursing ratios that place extreme burdens on nurses and inhumane on-duty/on-call work week requirements. As I spoke with several individual nurses after, I learned of many of their experiences in the workplace, the barriers to entering the profession and the costs they faced in meeting those standards and requirements. Many of them echoed similar sentiments as the representative from the MNA.
In another story I reviewed by Bridge Michigan, it was stated that due to a preexisting teacher shortage, compounded by the factors surrounding the pandemic, schools across Michigan have been forced to close on temporary basis due to the unprecedented level of the shortage. This shortage has strained the substitute pool beyond it's capacity to fully staff absences. As a consequence, the legislature passed a GOP Sponsored Bill to allow non-certified staff to act as substitute teachers. Then in a conversation I had with professional staff at one of the local schools, this Bill has done nothing to help bridge the shortage gap. According to one individual, there are several primary factors suppressing training, recruitment and retention of teachers. One such problem discussed was the barrier to entry, including costs of educating and training new teachers, when compared to the average yearly salary. Another important problem discussed was the teacher to student ratio, that causes lower educational outcomes among the students, learning disabilities going unnoticed and causes potentially dangerous situations to arise.
In the the article I read by Second Wave Michigan: "COVID has put a huge added stress on the workers on the frontlines, but child welfare workers have received very little public or governmental recognition or hazard pay," says Duane Breijak, executive director of the National Association of Social Workers' Michigan chapter. Child welfare workers put themselves into unknowable situations and connect resources to help families and a shortage of Social Workers in general will undoubtedly paralyze service response and will ultimately burden public safety resources as a consequence. According to a professional child welfare worker I canvassed recently, there isn't soo much a staff shortage inside Montcalm County, however there is definitely a shortage statewide. This individual also spoke to me about costs of educating and training new social workers and agreed it was a problem that suppresses interest in training for the field.
As reported by WWMT, Police sworn into office has fallen to approximately 2%, while 5% are resigning annually according to this story and is based on data from the June 2021 National Workforce Survey. According to the story, Police Academies are struggling to find good recruits and have become hypercompetitive. Given our state's ongoing social worker shortage and the fact that police are often dispatched to calls a social worker is best suited for, the impact of this situation becomes apparent. This parrots information I acquired in conversations with officers and with union representatives recently. In addition, I learned in those conversations that due to the competitive recruitment environment that exists in policing, retention can be challenging, since salary and benefits can be both a lure and deterrent for signing on.
With the ongoing shortages in multiple professions of essential services throughout Michigan, our state must rise to the occasion and meet this need head on. As your next State Senator, I will work to solve the state talent drain by working to revitalize training and retention programs, striving to increase public professional salaries, boost funding to public universities, establish a statewide full-ride "Michigan Promise" scholarship to Michigan public colleges and universities for Michigan residents, repeal the state pension tax and repeal taxes on retirement income. As I stated earlier, in order to solve the talent drain and reverse the shortage on various professions, we must first create an environment where those with the proficiency and passion will fully dedicate themselves to these professions. Then, we must adjust the barrier to entry of these professions to a level that is both reasonable and attainable to those desiring to enter the professions. Lastly, we must foster a community and economy where freshly trained and certified professionals will want to remain a part of our communities. If we implement these societal goals, with comprehensive policy reform, we can reestablish the Michigan Dream and make it a reality that we will make it in Michigan again. From Michigan born, Michigan raised, Michigan trained and to Michigan stayed; we will make it a reality that each of us can find our Michigan Dream here once again.
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.