US: Food system workforce assessment launches in Michigan

Following years of concentrated support and attention, the Michigan local food system has seen undeniable development. In 2010, the Michigan Good Food Charter was published, underscoring the importance of the good food economy. Good food in this context is defined as being green, healthy, fair and affordable, ideally paying a livable wage along the supply chain.

by Kaitlin Koch Wojciak, Michigan State University Extension

Good food is a critical component of Michigan’s economy. One way we see this is that agriculture is the second largest industry in the state. Building on that important foundation, good food is currently contributing to the state economy, as demonstrated by:

  • Increases in direct sales from farmers to educational institutions, restaurants, retail grocery, hospitals, and early childcare and education facilities
  • Emerging businesses that aggregate and supply good food
  • Programs that provide loans and technical assistance to good food businesses, like the Michigan Good Food Fund
  • Incentives like Double Up Food Bucks that encourage consumers to purchase more healthy foods while expanding markets for Michigan farmers

As the good food sector continues to mature, it is critical that we understand the workforce and training needs of employers and support industries in order to ensure a workforce that is sufficient to promote further growth and development. A workforce-needs assessment is underway through May of 2019 to gather this information.


Growing Hope hoophouse. Photo by Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability

A workforce needs assessment provides information about current and projected workforce needs and gaps. This is increasingly critical in today’s job market. There is not a defined methodology to conduct a workforce needs assessment, and results can be tailored to the specific needs of the employer or entity that is conducting the assessment.

Results of a workforce needs assessment can illustrate a wide range of information within a specific job type or field, including (but not limited to): current openings in a particular job or field, projected fluctuation for specific jobs, wage ranges, necessary skills to enter a field or position, current employee demographics, and education or training programs that can provide a pipeline of employees to a job or field. This information is helpful to a variety of sectors, including business owners, local and regional government, education and training providers, non-profits and more.

The Michigan good food workforce needs assessment study will provide details about the types and wage ranges of existing and future jobs, employer demand for these jobs, and what skills, education, and training is needed to perform these jobs.

These topics will be explored with attention to racial equity, including opportunities and barriers to improving equitable access to livable wage good food system jobs. The research will also explore the anticipated impact of technology on the good food job market, including potential impacts of artificial intelligence.

The Michigan good food workforce study was partially inspired by an assessment that was conducted in the state of Vermont, entitled Charting a Path: Food Systems Workforce Needs Assessment. This assessment, conducted in 2013, evaluated and shared results about workforce needs and gaps, education and training programs, food systems career paths and well-paying food systems job opportunities. The report concludes with a number of recommendations to improve the food systems workforce in response to the research findings.

To provide meaningful and representative results, the Michigan workforce needs assessment requires broad representation across food-related sectors and across the geography of the state. A survey is being widely distributed in both English and Spanish. There will also be interviews with food systems informants and a review of relevant data sets.

If you feel that you can inform this meaningful research, please visit the project webpage or contact Jeannine La Prad at MiFoodWorkforce@skilledwork.org. Ways to contribute include sharing relevant reports or information, sharing the survey with businesses and employers and participating in a stakeholder interview. Please help the project team to connect with employers, workers, educators, training providers, and other stakeholders in Michigan’s local and regional food system.

This assessment is being conducted by collaborative partners Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems, Kalamazoo Valley Community College, Michigan State University Extension and the Corporation for Skilled Workforce.

Source: Michigan State University


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