Fortifying the Talent Pipeline

Today’s investments in educational outcomes cement the foundation for tomorrow’s economic stability in Michigan.

That’s the essence behind a report released this past spring by the Detroit-based Business Leaders for Michigan. The report, “Business Leaders’ Insights: Leading Practices in K-12 Education That Can Improve Student Outcomes in Michigan,” shares a series of recommended best practices, which aim to make Michigan a top 10 state for student learning and talent development. Among the report’s contents are recommendations for maintaining high standards and existing assessments of progress, giving teachers greater access to technology and data, ensuring all education levels meet uniform accountability and performance standards, making sure funding is being spent effectively and sustaining a unified effort behind strategies that work.

The report notes that student achievement in math and reading at all education levels in Michigan are among the nation’s poorest; only one in four students leave high school prepared for college or a career. The purpose of the document is to prompt a public dialogue that involves the business community and leads to improvements.

“We need skilled, educated talent to fill today’s open positions, and we can see firsthand that our children are graduating without the skills they need to be successful,” said Doug Rothwell, president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan. “We knew it was time to add our voices to the discussion.”

Chris Wigent, executive director of the Lansing-based Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators (MASA), said his organization applauds the report – particularly the recommendation to address school funding by using the Michigan Adequacy Report as a starting point to understand the costs to educate K-12 students. Released in January by the School Finance Research Collaborative, the report recommended reforming Michigan’s school funding system.

“MASA is very much aware that collaboration and partnerships are necessary to improve student achievement in Michigan,” Wigent said. “We look forward to working with the entire business community as we work toward making Michigan a top 10 state in public education.”

To accelerate action to improve Michigan’s education outcomes, Business Leaders for Michigan have aligned a coalition of business, education, foundation and philanthropic organizations across the state, including the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Association of Michigan. 

“We need to actively help both parents and the business community become aware of the need to improve our education system,” said Rob Fowler, president and CEO of the Small Business Association of Michigan. “If our state is serious about boosting entrepreneurship and growing opportunities for more jobs and higher incomes, we need to find meaningful solutions for addressing K-12 academic achievement.” 

Tim Daman, president and CEO of the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the next step is to keep building the coalition of stakeholders – business leaders, parents, educators, legislators – in order to craft fixes with long-term sustainability regardless of new administrations, new lawmakers or new policies that are put in place over time.

“I don’t believe it’s a single entity; it has to be a broad-based coalition. That’s what it’s really going to take,” Daman said. “It’s much bigger than one entity.”

The Lansing Chamber’s two primary policy focuses are infrastructure and education, with the latter being a pipeline to prosperity in the state, according to Daman. In April, its executive board passed a policy statement noting that an effective and accountable education system is vital to grow and strengthen area students, as well as the talent pipeline for employers.

“It’s an educational crisis, but it’s something that can quickly lead to an economic crisis,” Daman said.

Poised in close proximity to the spheres of the state’s lawmakers, as well as many statewide education associations, the Lansing Chamber may be able to provide a unique voice to add to the conversation.

“Local groups like the Lansing Regional Chamber can play a strong and active role in helping schools know where skills gaps exist so they can better prepare students to compete for jobs,” Rothwell said. “There are a number of local schools in mid-Michigan (that) already have active partnerships with local businesses – we encourage those to continue.”

The Lansing School District is one such entity that has used business partnerships to open educational and career pathways for students in order to develop and nurture passions and career interests.

“I don’t know that Michigan can have an economic future without public education supporting it,” said School District Superintendent Yvonne Caamal Canul. “I think the purpose of public education is to provide students with options to explore what they want to do for a career. I think that’s our responsibility in public education.”

Caamal Canul said Lansing schools have a wealth of business partnerships to benefit and bolster student interest with such organizations as Emergent BioSolutions, the Michigan State University College of Nursing, Sparrow Health System and Douglas J Salons. In addition, she highlighted the district’s site-based summer programs as well as the Lansing Pathway Promise that helps students prep for college and career paths from the very early grades forward.

“We have lots of partnerships across the city. We’ve created a whole system here in Lansing, with the help of the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, to help kids prepare for a career and college,” Caamal Canul said. “We’ve kind of changed the way we do things in Lansing.”

Everyone needs to remain engaged and look at how changing the way things are done can help students meet higher standards and strengthen the talent pipeline for Michigan, according to Daman.

“There’s a tremendous amount of activity here. There’s a lot happening in the educational world right now. Everyone should be on board here to make it all about the kids,” Daman said.

Research and analysis for “Business Leaders’ Insights: Leading Practices in K-12 Education that Can Improve Student Outcomes in Michigan” was conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers in collaboration with Business Leaders for Michigan. The full report can be found at



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