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The Welsh Wire: Bridging the STEM Talent Gap in Michigan Through College OPT Programs – Part One

Dr. Steve Butt, Dr. Paulo Zaglo-Malo, and Lee Ryder.
From left: Dr. Steve Butt, Dr. Paulo Zaglo-Melo, and Lee Ryder.

In part one of a special presentation on The Welsh Wire, Sheri Welsh discusses a new collaboration addressing Michigan’s urgent need for well-trained STEM graduates, joined by guests from Western Michigan University (WMU).

This collaboration between Welsh & Associates and WMU’s Optional Practical Training (OPT) program will connect local businesses with international STEM students at WMU, guiding them through the legal employment requirements.

Sheri is joined by Dr. Steve Butt, Dean of WMU’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences; Dr. Paulo Zagalo-Melo, Associate Provost for WMU’s Institute for Global Education; and Lee Ryder, former Senior Director of International Student and Scholar Services at WMU. Together, they explore how this collaboration will benefit both students and local businesses.

In the presentation, Sheri describes how the war for talent, particularly in STEM fields, is going to be a 20-year challenge for employers, driven by long-term demographic factors affecting Michigan.

From 2010 to 2020, Michigan was ranked 46 in population growth among the 47 states that saw an increase during that time. From 2020 to 2022, it was one of 19 states that experienced a population decline.

Additionally, Michigan’s population is aging faster than the national average. Currently, it ranks as the 40th oldest state in the U.S. based on the median age of its residents. Projections suggest that the population of prime working-age adults (ages 25-54) will remain stable through 2050. However, if no changes are made, Michigan’s younger population is expected to decline by 5%, while the older population (age 55+) is projected to increase by 14%.

How can your business adapt to these demographic factors and get the STEM employees it needs to be successful?

Part two of this discussion will be available on June 11. Sheri and her guests from WMU will unveil an innovative pilot program designed to screen and vet STEM job candidates as well as streamline the paperwork process for hiring international graduates.

Listen to the full podcast of The Welsh Wire and subscribe on iTunes for additional informative, entertaining interviews with West Michigan business leaders.