TRAVERSE CITY, MI, – Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder calls on the auto industry to work with the state to step up vocational training for young people.

Government-business partnerships for job training aren’t new. But Snyder is calling to revitalize such efforts. He harkens back to his teenage days when public high schools ran active vocational-education programs.

“But along the way we messed up,” he says at the Management Briefings Seminars. “We told everyone they should go to university. I would never discourage that, but we didn’t equally emphasize career-tech education.”

Automakers increasingly rely on skilled workers on plant floors. Today, automation and robotics do much of the grunt work factory workers once did.

Automakers would hire more skilled laborers if more were available, Snyder says.

“My goal is for Michigan to be a leader in career-tech education,” he tells an audience consisting of many auto executives and engineers. “I need your help. I need your partnership.”

In addition to actual training programs, Snyder says, “we need to alter the perception of young people and their parents about what skilled trades are.

“I never tell people what they should do, but shouldn’t we give them more information about skilled trades? We should tell them what it means and how they can get the most from it.”

A recurring conference theme is how to lure employees to the auto industry. One session is entitled “Attracting and Retaining Talent in an Era of Changing Technology and Demographics.”

But such discussions mostly center on higher education, such as engineering-degree programs. Snyder says that’s important and the state is involved there too, but more skilled-trades training is needed.

“Who else has a governor who talks about tool-and-die shops?” Jay Baron, CEO of the Center for Automotive Research, says after Snyder’s address.

How does the governor’s fledging training proposal differ from efforts of the past?

Among other things, he cites the creation of a Michigan Economic Development Corp. automotive office headed by Nigel Francis, a former auto executive.

“He’s doing a good job of getting engaged with the industry,” Snyder tells journalists after his conference presentation.

“Government should play a coordination role, a clearinghouse role, not interfering in the marketplace but being a good partner.”

He tells conference attendees that when he became governor nearly four years ago, people visiting him on state business cordially would greet him, “then their next words would be, ‘We need and want money.’”

People today don’t readily ask that “because it would be a short conversation,” Snyder says, defining his role as a facilitator, not an ATM or a major job provider.

“I’d be nervous if all of us worked for the state of Michigan,” he says, repeating a line he delivered at the same conference two years ago.

Snyder speaks of government reforms that have helped attract business to the state during his gubernatorial term.

“The Michigan business tax was the dumbest tax in the state, and that was eliminated,” he says. “The personal property tax (on manufacturing machinery and business equipment) was the second-dumbest tax, and a ballot proposal to end it just won by a 2-1 margin.”

He says he’s not against regulations, “but we had too many of them in Michigan. We got rid of 1,500 of them.”

Such tax and regulatory changes have made Michigan more attractive to automakers. “You can say, ‘I can build that plant here’ and feel you are in a safe place.”

He is running for a second term but describes himself as someone who tries to avoid fights.

“People may want to fight with me, but I don’t fight with people. I seek solutions. Think about what Washington would be like if there was no blaming or fighting. People would get things done.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com