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Q&A: Wendy N. Powell on Detroit's Potential Progress

I said it the first day, and I'll say it again: Detroiters know how to work.

The only problem is…there are not enough places to work these days. (At least our 13 percent unemployment rate is the nation's second worst now…when this blog started, we were tops. Now, Nevada takes the top spot at 14.4 percent.) (More on See pictures of Detroit's beautiful, horrible decline)

In hopes of coming full circle, I spoke recently to Wendy N. Powell, a true Blue Michigan fan and human-resource and management-consulting expert. I got some job advice, some good ideas and some even better memories from Ms. Powell. She's pretty impressive with more than 25 years of experience, mostly at the U of M…and I love that she named her dog “Hailey to the Victors.”

Some background: Powell spent most of her career in human resources at the University of Michigan, and is currently on the business faculty at both Palm Beach State College and the University of Phoenix. A member of the Society for Human Resource Management, she received a leadership award in 2002 from the Midwest College and University Professional Association for Human Resources. Powell holds a BS in business management and an MA in organizational management.

She currently lives in South Florida with her husband, Terry, son, Ryan, and her dog, the before mentioned Hailey. She is author of the recently released "Management Experience Acquired: Necessary Skills for Successfully Managing Any Employee," which aims to help job seekers develop the skills they need to find work in this tough marketplace. (More on See “A Day in the Life of Detroit Mayor Bing)

I also came across and linked to her Huffington Post site recently, which sparked our conversation. Read it as well if you would. I loved her opening line: "I left my heart in Michigan when I moved out of state. The issues that have affected every facet of my family leave me 'shot through the heart,' but hopeful for a recovery."

Q: What is the one thing job seekers should try that they typically don't think of?

A: Keep your knowledge fresh – volunteer, look at temp or contract work. You don't know what opportunities will surface. Job candidates need to show that they will contribute to the bottom line with enthusiasm. When applying for a job, address all of the selection criteria of the job in the cover letter to prove to the prospective employer that they could not afford to pass by your candidacy. Research the company and assess their challenges and mission and address their experiences and future aspirations that will help the company. Look at the company values.

Q: What kind of recovery do you think Detroit will see in the next 1 to 5 years?

A: There is no question that the outlook is better for Detroit. The critical auto industry is finally on the mend but we need to beware of the issue of “right sizing.". The auto industry has been called “bloated” and in need of an overhaul. What does that mean for people waiting in the wings to be hired? What does that mean for the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their jobs due to auto or related industries?  We have lost many talented people to different states. Hopefully, there will be opportunities for them to return. (More on See TIME's special report "The Committee To Save Detroit")

Those laid off by the auto industry need to re-invent themselves. I did it and there are countless success stories of people who have dug deep into themselves to look at their strengths and opportunities for the next move. Look around, these stories are out there. Adapt your skills to the opportunities in Michigan. There is job growth in areas including alternative energy, life sciences, homeland security, the film industry and advanced manufacturing. (For more information, take a look at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation website.)

It has been announced that the recession is over and Detroit is expected to be the “economic bright spot.” It will take time. Hundreds of thousands of Michigan people lost their livelihood, and it will take time for this to rebound. It will take much more than five years to see considerable progress. We just cannot guarantee new jobs but we can create a friendly environment for businesses to take risk and prosper.

Q: What can an employee do to become invaluable?

A: Employees throughout the country are on pins and needles worrying about their future employment.  The unfortunate stories are discussed everywhere, in the media, around the family table, and at the water cooler. The most important strategy is to keep apprised of the critical initiatives at work at whatever level. Employees need to keep their ears and eyes open to be prepared to participate in discussions about the goals and potential resolutions to problems. These are the employees that will make themselves so valuable to the organization that the company won't be able to afford to eliminate them.

Of course, these employees who rise to the top of the employee heap are constant learners. Don't ever let yourself get stale, ever. Research trade magazines, websites and conferences. Seek out the current trends and lingo that will prove to your employer that you are ready to not only perform in your current job, but are making yourself ready for the next challenge, and next job. Creativity is the most sought after characteristic. Make sure you become that employee. (More on See 10 things to do in Detroit)

Q: Why did you write about Detroit for the Huffington Post? What was the reaction?

A: The Detroit area is my home and I care deeply about the issues related to my home and my family. There is a connection to the auto industry to most jobs in Michigan from education to finance. With so many jobs lost, it affects family stability, the housing market and plans for the future. Countless people have had families relocate, lost their homes, and put retirement plans on hold after losing a significant chunk of their 401k and savings. With the baby boomers delaying retirement, new jobs are not available for the new generations of employees. It's a downward spiral in the job market that needs to stop.  Businesses need assurance that their expenses won't increase to loosen up their ability to hire and take risks.

Knowledge is power. We need to keep the awareness of Michigan's strife front and center. One critical reaction is that there has been a tendency for Michigan companies to hire people from outside of the area, hiring people from other states before considering the local job pool. Of course, they can do just that but we are all in this together. Perhaps encouragement and awareness from local leaders would help to solve this problem.

Q: What is your favorite Detroit memory?

A: I love to be with my family and friends. My immediate family had to relocate to Florida but we go home as often as possible. One favorite memory with family is going to sporting events. Tiger baseball games and University of Michigan football games are the best. The smells of hotdogs, popcorn and beer and the unique sounds of the stadiums are irreplaceable.

See more from TIME's yearlong look at Detroit

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