A collaborative effort at diversification education

March 15, 2009
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West Michigan prides itself on its entrepreneurship and successful small businesses, so it should come as no surprise that the region has its fair share of programs to help such companies.

The collaborative efforts of Grand Rapids Community College and The Right Place Inc. have resulted in the latest of these programs: the Market Diversification Program.

Julie Parks, director of workforce training for GRCC, said the classes offered by the new program will both provide a way to freshen employee work skills and also a way for businesses to move into new markets.

“There are two markets. There are people who are already employed by companies and there could be dislocated workers who need these skills. Companies tell us they need people who have these skills in strategy development and innovation management and commercialization,” said Parks.

“We’re also looking at existing businesses looking for new markets — to help them get ready and help them actualize. We really want our businesses to grow. We don’t want them to leave. We want them to find new markets and be the best at what they do.”

The program is divided into three components: strategic development, innovation management and commercialization strategies. Under each component is a plethora of classes from which to choose, depending on where a company or individual is in their process.

“You don’t have to go through each individual component, because each company is at a different stage. If you’re just beginning, you need to, first of all, have a strategy, so we ask you to start with a class called diversification readiness,” said Parks.

“If you already have a strategy and know you need to diversify, then you can go through the innovation management part and look at what are our strengths, what are our weaknesses.”

The four-hour classes take place at the Leslie E. Tassell M-TEC location in Grand Rapids. Those enrolled can expect to work on real-life business scenarios.

“We encourage people to bring real stuff with you. We’re going to help you walk away with some real plans to move forward,” she said. “We’re not talking classroom learning here. It’s an interactive new style of learning.”

Parks said GRCC’s partnership with The Right Place Inc. is essential, as the organization is a great source of information as to what skills employees need, what employers are looking for and much more.

Bill Small, innovation director, technology and growth services, at The Right Place Inc. added, “The Michigan Manufacturing Technology role is to help these small to midsized manufacturers with programs like market diversification, to help them not only go after new customers and new markets, (but) also to do the homework and the preparation to make sure they know what they’re getting into. … And two, that they’re prepared to look and be competitive with companies that are already in that industry or other companies trying to join.”

Small said that while, in the past, programs often have been formatted to do onsite training of the company as a whole, the market diversification courses are targeted at training on a more individual level.

“We do various programs, from workshops to lean manufacturing, and market diversification is the next one we’re launching together. The program the Grand Rapids Community College is launching with us is focused on individuals. It’s the same program, the same type of education training materials, but instead of going out and helping whole companies, it’s a way for companies to send out an individual to learn about the program and bring it back to the company. It’s a way for individuals who are looking to improve, expand their skills, or are looking to expand their résumé while they are looking for a new job.

“So the complement is that we work together: Our main focus is on companies; their main focus is on individuals. But we’re providing the same material, the same educational opportunity to both together.”

Class cost varies but is around $185 per half day; whole components can be purchased, as well.

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