It’s time to dismantle the barriers to our success

Note: This is the second in a series of posts analyzing the nine key strategies cited in our 20/20 Vision Report.

Even at a time of historically low unemployment, many West Michigan adults struggle to join, remain or advance in the workforce – often for reasons beyond their control. Why is that?


Talent 2025 has studied this question extensively. Our Workforce Development Working Group found answers, identifying key barriers to employment. Even as we make localized progress toward dismantling some of these barriers, many remain as significant obstacles to success for individuals and our region.


In the 20/20 Vision Report released by Talent 2025 last month, we issued a challenge to take our regional talent system from good to great. This included nine strategies, with the second focused on barriers:


Strategy 2: Reduce barriers to employment and workforce participation.

These systemic barriers must be understood and addressed to ensure economic mobility and opportunity for all and add to the quality and scale of the region’s workforce. Several rise to the top as priorities.


Education & Training

Since 2010, West Michigan has made significant progress toward our goal that by 2025 at least 64% of all West Michigan residents age 25 and older will have a postsecondary credential. Still, work remains. The high school graduation rate in the region is stuck at 81 percent – well short of the Talent 2025 goal of 95 percent. And the number of adults who remain functionally illiterate – estimated at 15 percent – is unacceptable. These seemingly intractable statistics need to improve if West Michigan is to be a top 20 region for talent.


Child Care

A lack of affordable, quality child care keeps many parents who would like to work out of the workforce. The number of child care providers in Michigan dropped 30 percent from 2016 to 2017 and continues at a rate of 100 providers lost per month statewide.


Policy makers can alleviate this by increasing the reimbursement rate to providers and eligibility threshold necessary for working poor families to quality for assistance. Local employers are now starting public-private partnerships to retain and attract employees.



Lack of access to reliable, affordable transportation keeps many potential employees out of the workforce and contributes to job tardiness, absenteeism, lost productivity, and turnover. Turnover is calculated to cost employers approximately $3,500 for each entry-level position. Research tells us Hope Network’s Wheels to Work program is the most cost effective solution in West Michigan and a national leading practice. This hub-based transit program allows employees to share the cost of transportation with their employers.


Our Workforce Development Working Group identified additional barriers, including substance use policies, demands on time for jobseekers, overcoming criminal histories and navigating complex systems. Fortunately, we are seeing progress toward reducing some of these barriers, particularly in the priority areas of education, transportation and child care.


Aligning efforts

The 20/20 Vision Report identifies multiple opportunities to build on the work that’s being done already, such as improving effectiveness and investment in adult education, encouraging public-private partnerships in child care, and replicating programs like Wheels to Work.


You’ll find other examples in the barriers section of the report, starting on page 36. We encourage you to identify an area where you can contribute. The only way to advance toward our goals is through an aligned, region-wide approach. This is how everyone benefits.


As stated in the report, “we have an opportunity to address the correlation between education and economic mobility, move families out of crisis, reduce workplace absenteeism and high employee turnover, and increase the size and quality of the region’s workforce. We can take steps to mitigate inequity and raise standards of living for all.”


Subscribe to our blog feed

Related Reading

preschool classroom with children and teachers sitting at a table

The following opinion was originally published in The Detroit News on May 21 (subscriber link). By Kevin Stotts For more than a decade, Michigan has...

Young man sits in work cubicle looking at computer, hand on his head

Among the many historic workplace disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the more unexpected might have been a growing willingness to discuss mental and...

Mom in graduation cap and gown, with smiling daughter.

A new study shows that most American adults recognize the value of a postsecondary credential for career and financial success. At the same time, employers...