2019 Workforce Assessment of Michigan’s Local and Regional Food System: An overview of what we did, what it showed, and why it matters


January 6, 2020 - <barryjud@msu.edu>, <barryjud@msu.edu>, Jeannine La Prad, Anna Hughes, Mary Freeman, Kaitlin Wojciak, Rachel Bair

Workforce Assessment Graphic 1
Download this infographic to share highlights of this report. See below for citation.

Michigan’s local and regional food system development work is designed to improve lives and provide equitable outcomes for all.

Availability of quality jobs is critical to improving Michigan communities and the economy. Over 1 million (29%) of Michigan’s households work to make a living but still have insufficient income to make ends meet.

Over 400,000 people are employed in Michigan's food system. Michigan food system wages, overall, have been rising at a higher average annual rate than other industries in the state.

We sought to better understand how people are employed in local and regional food systems and what their training and education opportunities are.

This report is the first in a series summarizing a 2019 workforce assessment of Michigan’s local and regional food system.  

The local and regional food system can be defined in a number of ways. For the purposes of this study, the local and regional food systems encompass organizations that produce, process, or distribute food from Michigan that is available to Michigan consumers, and/or organizations that support this system.

The project research included:

  • A scan of Michigan’s food system jobs: where we collected and analyzed secondary labor market data to identify local and regional food systems employment; demand; projected growth; median wages; and worker demographics.
  • An employer’s perspective of Michigan’s local and regional food system workforce. This included:
    • Surveying employers to better understand employment and skill shortages and critical factors related to current and future workforce demand, and
    • Interviewing local and regional food system stakeholders to complement the survey data to better understand the current and future mix of jobs, potential career pathways, and availability of and gaps in education and training needs.
  • A scan of education and training opportunities in Michigan’s local and regional food system: an inventory of education and training programs for local and regional food system jobs.

Michigan’s food system jobs scan

Across the different food systems sectors there was a wide range in the number of people employed and the average earnings (average earnings ranged from $25,738 in retail to $64,889 in wholesale distribution).

Over the last 5 years, wages in Michigan’s food system have a higher rate of growth than wages in other Michigan industries and wages in food system jobs in other states across the USA.

These findings are not specific to local and regional food systems due to challenges in isolating the local and regional business data.

A survey of local and regional food system businesses

Forty-one percent of respondents had current job openings, mainly due to attrition and business growth. Hiring is a significant part of a local and regional food system business operations with 86% of respondents expecting to hire in the next 3 years.

Hiring challenges include inability to pay competitive wages (36%) or offer benefits (32%). The top three skills that employers say are hardest to find are communication (23%), work ethic (19%), and reliability (17%).

Respondents to the survey indicated that generally businesses required more education for senior level roles, but about one-fifth of business respondents had no formal education requirements for each level of role (entry level, mid-level and senior level roles). Local and regional food system businesses seek a range of certifications when hiring. More than half of respondents cited certification in food safety (most commonly SERV Safe for Handlers and Managers) as a valuable qualification for applicants (57%; n = 37).

Survey respondents were asked to rank their current training needs from a list of common food system skills. The areas of greatest needs include:

  • Customer relations/customer service for warehouses, storage and distribution, and retail and food service businesses.
  • Day to day operations, food handling, safety procedures, and sales and marketing across all business sectors. Sales and marketing training was especially needed in food processing.
  • Machine operation, organic farming, safety procedures, animal handling, and trade skills training for food production business operations.

A scan of local and regional food systems education and training opportunities

The Michigan local and regional food system education and training scan showed a notable gap in food system education opportunities at the K-12 level, given that the labor market data and employer feedback suggested that many food system jobs require only a high school diploma (55%) or more than 2 years of experience (44%).

The full education and training scan report includes a directory of education and training opportunities. It also highlights the number of education opportunities in each county, grouped by career pathway.

This study suggests the following actions to close education and training-related gaps and improve job quality:

  • Expand training and support services for targeted areas of the food system, particularly food processing.
  • Partner with businesses to develop solutions that meet hiring, retention, and training needs.
  • Provide better information about food system jobs, career pathways, and education and training opportunities.
  • Form cross-sector partnerships to improve food system job readiness, access, and quality.
  • Integrate business assistance, workforce development support, and training for food system businesses.

Deeper analysis in each of these areas of work will be released in separate publications and webinars, including:

  • Michigan food system job scan
    • Trending jobs in local and regional food systems
    • Potential career pathways
    • Salaries
  • Developing Michigan’s local and regional food system workforce – challenges and opportunities
    • Skills and educational requirements
    • Gaps in the labor market
  • Workforce education and training opportunities in Michigan’s local and regional food system
    • Existing education and training programs
    • Education and training needs

Watch past webinars for this series:


Infographic citation

Mensch, L., Barry, J., Wojciak, K., Bair, R., La Prad, J., Pirog, R., & Weiss, A. (2020). What does Michigan need to develop, train and maintain a workforce that supports communities and economic development through local and regional food? [Infographic]. Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems. https://foodsystems.msu.edu/resources/2019-workforce-assessment-overview



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