By Andrew Johnson and Krystal Tanner

As artificial intelligence continues to expand across economic and policy sectors, state leaders look to understand the impact and potential benefits of AI in their workforce. State approaches to AI and workforce vary, with some tying investment in emerging technologies to job creation. Similarly, some states, including Michigan, are investing in AI to enhance talent attraction and support jobseekers in identifying available career opportunities.

In October 2023, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) launched a program using AI to analyze the existing experience and skills of jobseekers to match them with the right job. The platform, the Michigan Career Portal, emerged from a talent attraction and retention campaign seeking to showcase Michigan career opportunities to a national audience, as well as current residents looking for new opportunities close to home.

The portal gives jobseekers access to more than 70,000 job opportunities in the state. More than just a job board, the portal can help jobseekers map their career trajectory, even providing relevant training opportunities to upskill and meet their career goals.

Through the platform, MEDC takes users through the experience of understanding their skill sets are and aligning them with the industries and occupations being prioritized based on the state’s economy. To get started, users create a profile and input their work experience, either by uploading a current resume or manually entering work experience.

The AI-powered system analyzes a jobseeker’s experience and identifies key skills and career opportunities based on those skills, including those the perspective applicant had not considered.

“It’s not keyword matching,” said Spencer Lucker, MEDC director of strategic talent initiatives. “It is analyzing the skills sets that you have and the skill sets that you might have.”

With that information, the AI platform provides recommended career pathways, and can even suggest classes and programs to upskill or fill any skill gaps. Lucker said this helps the user achieve their career goals and shows “that we can help them progress through that full career pathway all within Michigan.” Recommended jobs and training opportunities are accessible in the user’s profile dashboard, allowing them to navigate applications and training in one place.

Focusing on skills is a growing trend in workforce development, especially amid the expansion of AI. Skills-based hiring evaluates an individual’s abilities or skills, rather than education or years of experience. In 2023, 73% of employers used skills-based hiring, compared to 56% in 2022.

The rise and incorporation of AI in the workplace has also led to a refined focus on employee skills. In its 2023 report, “The AI-Ready Workforce Framework,” Jobs for the Future argued that AI will reshape the tasks and skills of most jobs, requiring a heightened awareness to what are necessary skills and what role AI will play in those. This, in turn, may require upskilling or reskilling for employees to adjust for the shift of AI’s influence.

While the Michigan Career Portal is used primarily for talent attraction, the AI skills analysis could support reskilling, especially when industries and employment sectors change, including the impact of AI on industries. If an industry is declining, or a major employer leaves a community, AI systems like this can help a state adapt to changing labor markets, which Lucker said would be difficult to analyze and retrain thousands of workers without AI.

Using an AI function appealed to MEDC because of the added functionality. Connecting job seekers with open opportunities at a skills level requires a lot of resources, which a state may not have available.

“For any state government, you’re always looking at the most efficient use of resources, both financial and staff resources,” Lucker said.

AI allows the state to provide individual support to jobseekers at an unlimited level, without worrying about internal employee capacity. Building an AI job portal, which also provides customized training opportunities, at the state level is no simple task. Lucker said MEDC collaborated across government agencies and private sector partners to identify in-demand careers and training opportunities.

“How we identify those career profiles stemmed initially from the research we have done with our core employer partners,” Lucker said.

Lucker and his team identified major occupational pathways based on current priorities, or anticipated needs in occupational forecasts. Building training opportunities for these career profiles required collaboration as well.

“Our team did a lot of research and collaboration with our higher ed partners, with training providers, with other workforce development partners that understand those training pathways,” Lucker said.  

In addition to partnerships and collaboration between state agencies and employers, a critical piece to building the Michigan Career Portal is data.

“It’s easy to underestimate the amount of data that has to go into these programs in order to provide good sufficient results,” Lucker said. “There’s a lot of discussion around AI now … about how bad data causes bad AI.”

Concerns around the negative impacts of AI in the practice of hiring, including bias and data accuracy, underscores this sentiment. These negative impacts ultimately stem from the data AI learns from. This impacts how MEDC approaches AI utilization in the career portal. It comes down to ensuring the answers and products users get from AI are safe, accurate and fully informed.

“All that comes down to the data that is being put into the system,” Lucker said.

Lucker specifies the burden of ensuring quality, accurate data isn’t a roadblock for states seeking to implement AI into their workforce or other initiatives. It is something state agencies and contractors should be prepared to face.

Ensuring and acquiring quality data is “one of the biggest challenges,” according to Lucker. In Michigan, MEDC overcame this challenge by relying on state agency partners. Lucker said breaking down these silos and collaborating with other agencies and departments allows MEDC to leverage “the resources that the state has to offer.” 

A piece of advice Lucker offers for other state entities looking to incorporate AI into their programs is “to continue to ask questions.” Understanding the technology, especially when partnering with an outside vender, is critical.

“We really lean into asking the hard questions … we want to understand the technology and how it’s working so we can make sure we’re providing the best service to the public,” Lucker said.

Lucker encourages other agencies looking into AI to not be scared to dig deeper into any questions they have. This not only protects the public user, but also protects the state and the brand they are building. Digging deeper and asking questions can also identify new opportunities for innovation. 

“There are positive opportunities that come with taking risks, and that doesn’t always happen within state government,” Lucker said.

He noted that by taking the risk and being an early adopter allowed MEDC to be a part of building the new technology. MEDC’s vendor has previously worked in the field of state workforce, but not economic development specifically. Because of that, Lucker said this partnership was symbiotic to meet their economic development goals, in addition to workforce.

Creating a new resource that uses AI to intersect and support workforce development, talent attraction and economic development is an experience Lucker reflects positively on.

 “I think that’s something really exciting to be part of building,” Lucker said.

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