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Workforce Development, Talent Management and Neo-Liberal labor speak: Believe 2 Become report reveals how business views students in West Michigan

May 23, 2017

Last December, we wrote an article responding to the praise that GRPS Superintendent, Teresa Weatherall Neal, was giving to Betsy DeVos for her “support” for Grand Rapids Public Schools. 

A major part of the reason that Neal was singing Betsy DeVos’s praises was because we noted how much money the DeVos Family had donated to the various programs West Michigan’s most powerful family had help to start. These programs, are in many ways, connected to the main goals that the DeVos Family espouses, which are inserting religion in the public sphere and promoting neo-liberal capitalist principles.

One of the projects the DeVos Family has had their hands in and provided a substantial amount of funding to, is the GRPS-supported project, Believe 2 Become. The Believe 2 Become initiative is funded by the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation. According to the most recent 990s, the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation has increased each year the amount of money they have donated to Believe 2 Become.

A new report from Believe 2 Become reflects to worldview of the DeVos Family and many other members and organizations that make up the Power Structure in West Michigan.

The report, Workforce Opportunity in West Michigan:Connecting a Qualified Workforce to High-Growth Opportunities, demonstrates that the local power structure sees students primarily as workers they can make money off of.

The contemporary business community uses terms like talent management and workforce development, but these are essentially modern terms for what 19th century writers would refer to as wage slaves.

Look at these comments from Business Leaders and you can see how they view students:

Each of these members of the capitalist class make it clear that the function of education is to prepare people to be good and obedient workers.

The talent management group Talent 2025 has identified these three goals (on the right) for West Michigan, if the economy is to grow.

These goals are instructive, since they make it clear that education should serve business interests, corporate funding should drive greater economic opportunities and the education system should change, meaning it should become more privatized to serve business needs.

It is crucial that we all not buy into the Orwellian use of language and promote talent creation, talent management or workforce development. This language is simply meant to deceive us into believing the lies of an economic system that only benefits a small percentage of people.

We could make our own three goals or recommendations about how to discern and resist the power of the business community in West Michigan.

  • We should not see students/youth as a talent pool that primarily serves business interests. Instead, we should see students/youth as people who deserve to live in a world that is not driven by the profit motive.
  • We should recognize that when the business community talks about growing the economy of West Michigan, what they really mean is to grow it for themselves. All their talk about low-unemployment rates is contradicted by the fact that 25% of the population of West Michigan lives in poverty. The percentage of those living in poverty increases to nearly 30% if we are talking about communities of color.
  • We need to develop autonomous, grassroots and community-based efforts that are built on cooperation and redefine an economy that serves all people and preserves ecosystems.

In other words, we need to both resist the current economic system, while at the same time begin to develop new economies that are based on justice, equity and ecological integrity.

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