Community colleges draw laid-off workers
LANSING — It was only the beginning for state retraining programs when Gov. Jennifer Granholm singled out two success stories of workers laid off from their jobs but too young to throw in the towel.
One was a Bay City man who lost his job as manager of a sporting goods store and earned an associate’s degree in chemical processing within a year and half. The other, a man from Fraser, who had lost his job in the tool and die industry, is earning a degree in information technology.
Granholm took it a step further by proposing an additional $40 million for No Worker Left Behind, as part of an intended $618 million investment in worker training programs. NWLB allows adults to receive up to $5,000 for retraining for two years at a community college while collecting unemployment benefits. It is organized through the state agency Michigan Works!
Dan Heaton, director of public relations at Macomb Community College, explained, “The goal is that — hopefully, when the economy begins to turn — these people will have the skills, training or certificate they need to move into a new career field.”
Granholm said, “Since the program began last August, Michigan Works! agencies have experienced a 300 percent increase in the number of people seeking training.”
John Groen, communications representative for the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, said the number of dislocated workers entering federally funded programs has risen 45 percent since Aug. 1, 2008.
The average NWLB participant is 36 years old, the department said.
Sharon Miller, dean of workforce development at Oakland Community College, said she has seen about a 300 percent increase in her program. In fall 2007, Oakland had 75 students in NWLB programs. Currently, it has 227 students in the program, and another 50 or so in short-term or accelerated programs.
Miller said Oakland is recruiting students for several industries, including road construction apprenticeship readiness, auto service repair and a newly evolving film industry training program. She also said there is a substantial enrollment in health fields.
Macomb Community College has also seen great interest in retraining programs.
Heaton said that since August 2007, his college has had an additional 890 students funded through NWLB, 46 of whom have completed training in specific programs. Heaton said 18 of those 46 are currently employed.
Heaton said the six most popular fields for NWLB trainees are: accounting, computer networking, paralegal, medical billing and coding, medical assistant, culinary arts and heating, venting and air conditioning.
The governor has also proposed more investment in “green” programs, but both Miller and Heaton say that that’s not in line with the current interests of employers and displaced workers.
Miller said, “The stimulus package is going to be what generates interest in those programs, and until the stimulus package came out, I don’t think there was substantial interest.”
Heaton agreed, saying that the list of programs he sees people most interested in does not include any “green” programs. Still, Groen said that Energy, Labor and Economic Growth is investing $6 million as a part of the Green Jobs Initiative to be integrated with NWLB.
Brian Fredline, president of United Auto Workers Local 602 in Lansing, said most of the autoworkers he sees involved with retraining have low seniority in the plant.
“As of March 30, almost 1,200 to 1,500 people will be laid off,” he said. “Most of those individuals have around 10 years or less seniority with the corporation.”
Still, Fredline says the common philosophy seems to be “better safe than sorry.
“In this environment, if you can’t see the writing on the wall, then plan A shouldn’t be automotive anymore and you better have a plan B,” he said. “Our members know that. We've been telling them that for months just to be prepared.
“Now that that eventuality has come to pass, well, they're looking very hard at the future,” he said.