State Pushes Retraining Efforts

September 17, 2007
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LANSING — The state’s No Worker Left Behind program is giving displaced workers and low-income earners up to $10,000 in free tuition assistance to help them get the education and training they need to transition to a new career.

Michigan launched the No Worker Left Behind initiative Aug. 1, and the response has been “tremendous,” said Andy Levin, deputy director of the Michigan Department of Labor & Economic Growth. He said that 1,500 people were in training as a result of the program as of Aug. 29.

No Worker Left Behind is being administered by the state’s 25 Michigan Works agencies, which are work-force development centers that offer both employers and job seekers assistance to ensure employers have a ready supply of skilled workers and workers have decent job opportunities.

The new initiative offers up to $5,000 tuition assistance per year for two years at any Michigan community college, university or technical training program. The program is expected to affect 100,000-plus displaced and low-wageworkers in Michigan, according to Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

Any Michigan resident who has received notice of termination or of immennt layoff at work, or whose annual family income is $40,000 or less, is eligible for free tuition. Participants must earn certification or an associate’s degree in a high-demand occupation, an emerging industry or in an entrepreneurship program that teaches them the skills needed to start their own businesses. Qualified residents have up to three years to get in on the program.

“No Worker Left Behind is both a new initiative and a re-branding of our work training efforts, but the launch of it has greatly increased demand for training across the state,” Levin noted.

Levin said that the Livingston County Michigan Works agency, for example, has gone from a dozen people at the orientations to an average of 60. At Southeast Michigan Community Alliance, a Michigan Works agency covering Wayne and Monroe counties, twice as many people have been coming to the center over the past month, and most have been interested in No Worker Left Behind, Levin said.

Michigan residents have one chance to sign up for the program over the next three years. The application deadline is July 31, 2010, Levin said, and participants have up to four years to complete their training.

“Most people will do a six-month or one-year training program, but if they can swing it and complete an associate’s degree or full bachelor’s degree — as long as they meet our criteria — we will help them,” Levin said.

The program is supported by existing federal work-force training funds. The fiscal year 2008 executive budget recommendation for the Department of Labor and Economic Growth includes first-year program funding of $77 million, including $37 million in federal Workforce Investment Act funds and, with legislators’ approval, $40 million from the state’s general fund.

Participants must go through an application process at one of the state’s Michigan Works centers. Maureen Downer, program director for Allegan-Kent Michigan Works, said her office has seen a lot of interest in the program.

“We’ve had more than double the number of folks coming in, and most of it I attribute to No Worker Left Behind,” Downer said. “A lot of them have heard — either through the governor’s office or the news — that the program is available. We encourage people to come in and find out more about what the program offers.” 

Downer said registrants are asked to participate in a couple of workshops, one focusing on career exploration and how to identify high-demand occupations. The other workshop assists registrants in choosing the right training provider, whether it be a local college, university or technical training program, she said.

“Our purpose is to try get all of Michigan’s work force retrained and ready for new jobs. Many of them say they don’t know what they want to do and just want us to tell them what occupation to go into,” Downer said. “We ask them to do a little bit of research and then we work with them to determine whether the job they’re considering is an occupation in demand.” 

Mary Kay Schoon, program supervisor for Ottawa County Michigan Works, said when the program was first announced, her office received a number of calls about it, but inquiries have slowed down. She believes that’s because colleges and training schools have already started fall semester.

Robert Straits, director of Kalamazoo-St. Joseph Michigan Works, said about 100 people registered for the program, though the number showing up for orientation is tapering off, which he, too, attrributes to the fact that schools are now in session.

“Because of how late the program got started, the number of people actually getting into training is low right now, probably around 50,” he said.

According to the Senate Fiscal Agency, Michigan’s job growth peaked in June 2000, and since then the number of people working has dropped by more than 440,000, or 9 percent. More than half of the losses have been in manufacturing, with the demise of more than 289,000 manufacturing jobs since June 2000. Meanwhile, employers across Michigan are facing a shortage of workers with the skills and eductation necessary to take on jobs in advanced manufacturing, health care, biotech, renewable energy and other growing sectors of the economy.

A recent report by the Michigan League for Human Services, “Fixing the Leaky Pipeline: Why Adult Education and Skills Training Matters for Michigan’s Future,” identifies adult education as one way to bring workers back into the pipeline of skill-building and career development. The league believes the No Worker Left Behind program will contribute to that effort.

The report concludes: “Michigan cannot afford to let a large number of its skilled workers continue to leak from the various edication and training systems to be left behind as the skill demands of employers advance. Stregthening the adult education system to simultaneously meet both the needs of businesses and low-skill workers is the best response to this challenge.”

Granholm said No Worker Left Behind is a critical step in turning Michigan’s economy around. She said the program will prepare residents for positions in cutting-edge industries and make the state more attractive to job-generating businesses.     

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