Jen Bradshaw had a difficult time finding software and application developers even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020.
Workers with those high-demand skills were landing jobs with firms on the West Coast and other states, where they earned more while working remotely than they could with a local employer in West Michigan.
Employers’ ability to find software and app developers has only worsened in the pandemic as remote work became the norm, tightening the talent market in a profession proving to be one of the fastest-growing occupations in Michigan, according to updated state outlooks released this month.
Professionals in the field increasingly want to work remotely after they became accustomed to it and “don’t want to drive to an office, even for a day or two during the week,” said Bradshaw, the chief brilliance detector at Grand Haven-based tech recruiter Paragon USA LLC.
Some of Bradshaw’s local clients have had open positions for several months and “are feeling the pain” of trying to compete with West Coast wages.
“This was happening pre-COVID,” Bradshaw said in an email to MiBiz. “We had people sitting in West Michigan working remotely for companies out of California, Arizona and Texas. This trend continues upward. It’s tough to try and draw someone away from those higher wages. We didn’t see much movement in terms of job changes during (2020), however, 2021 has been different. People are starting to make moves … for other 100 percent remote opportunities.”
New occupation outlooks
Earlier this month, the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget issued a series of regional occupation outlooks forecasting career demand through 2028. Positions for software and app developers are expected to grow by 14.3 percent annually through 2028 across a 13-county West Michigan region.
That’s the third-highest projected growth rate among the top 20 fastest-growing occupations that require a four-year college degree, according to the new outlook. Software and app developers also rate among the occupations in highest demand in the seven-county Southwest Michigan region with an expected annual growth rate of 18.4 percent.
The state regularly updates job-growth projections for the top 20 high-demand occupations in eight regional markets across Michigan. Projections are divided into five categories based on required education, from high school diploma and short-term training to a bachelor’s degree or higher.
The data list growth rates by their percentage and the actual number of projected job openings in a year.
The latest outlooks reflect trends that have been occurring for years, with advanced manufacturing skilled trades, health care, construction and information technology leading the highest-growing professions, said Jacob Maas, CEO of West Michigan Works! in Grand Rapids.
West Michigan Works! uses the state outlooks and compares the data with its own projections for hot jobs based on regular conversations with employers and educators to gauge future talent demand and plan job-training programs, Maas said.
Maas hopes that outlooks for the top-growing jobs may spur more people to go into those professions or skilled trades that are experiencing persistent worker shortages that have worsened in the pandemic.
“That’s the big thing: Can we get people to start thinking or re-thinking what work looks like? If anything, I’m hoping that this will get people to start thinking about careers and occupations and other things, because right now we need workers,” Maas said. “It certainly is a great tool for somebody wondering what other jobs are out there.”
Michigan’s civilian labor force was at roughly 4.7 million people in July, slightly lower than in June, and down 120,000 people, or 4 percent, from July 2020, according to the state’s most recent unemployment data.
In one of the “biggest surprises,” the state outlooks forecast that the West Michigan region as a whole leads the state with projected job growth of 2.6 percent through 2028, Maas said. No other region is above 2 percent overall, he said.
That’s a positive sign for the region and clearly indicates that key sectors such as manufacturing and the office furniture industry remain strong, even as employers all over continue to grapple with labor shortages, Maas said.
The region’s population growth is driving the job growth, Maas said. Recent U.S. Census Bureau data show Ottawa and Kent among Michigan’s fastest-growing counties.
As for the number of future job openings, the fastest-growing occupations in West Michigan that require a two-year degree or apprenticeship are machinists, carpenters, electricians, industrial machine mechanics, and plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters. Occupational therapy assistants ranked first, and respiratory therapists ranked third for high-demand jobs in Southwest Michigan that require a two-year degree or apprenticeship.
CNC machine tool programmers easily topped the outlooks for the fastest-growing occupations in both regions that require at least some post-secondary school or moderate-term training. That occupation will grow an estimated 26.7 percent annually in West Michigan through 2028, and 23.5 percent in Southwest Michigan, according to the outlooks.
Among the fastest-growing occupations in West Michigan requiring a four-year degree, substance, behavioral and mental health counselors are expected to grow a projected 17.3 percent, and the state expects positions for market research analysts and marketing specialists to increase 15.7 percent each year through 2028.
Physician assistant ranks as the fastest-growing occupation in Southwest Michigan with a projected 21.9-percent increase, although the actual number of job openings annually is comparatively small at 25. Positions for registered nurses, by comparison, are expected to grow 5 percent a year but with 410 job openings annually.
Health care professions top the list of fastest-growing occupations in both West and Southwest Michigan that require at least a two-year degree or apprenticeship.
The state forecasts job openings in West Michigan for occupational therapists to grow 20 percent annually through 2028, and 25 percent in Southwest Michigan. The state projects respiratory therapist jobs to increase 19.5 percent in West Michigan, and 14.3 percent in Southwest Michigan.
Physical therapy assistant job openings in West Michigan are expected to increase by 15.2 percent a year, followed by diagnostic medical stenographers at 11.9 percent, according to the state outlook.