Economic Development, Government, and Human Resources

Workforce agency rebrands as West Michigan Works!

The new regionally aligned organization will cover seven counties.

July 31, 2015
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Seven West Michigan counties are collaborating to form a regional organization to provide unified services for employers and job seekers.

Michigan Works!, a workforce development association, announced July 22 the merging of four agencies to create West Michigan Works! in an effort to align policies, procedures and practices for delivery of regional services while maintaining a local perspective.

The structural realignment of the four Michigan Works agencies located throughout the West Michigan region will be effective Oct. 1 and was approved by elected officials from seven counties: Allegan, Barry, Ionia, Kent, Muskegon, Montcalm and Ottawa.

The decision was also approved by the city of Grand Rapids, which will play a role with the consortium on the local elected official board, due to its size.

Jacob Maas, CEO of West Michigan Works, said the conversation for restructuring began roughly two years ago when Gov. Rick Snyder unveiled his vision for regionalization. He said the organization has been working with a consultant for six to nine months to decide which framework made sense for the region.

“We decided we wouldn’t create a separate administrative umbrella agency, and the best option we had that made the most sense, given our reduction in funding, would be to actually merge these organizations into one,” said Maas. “We did so by using our existing structuring but branding Michigan Works! as West Michigan Works!”

While working through the process of transitioning the agencies into one regionalized organization, Maas said there were two key principles that were kept in mind: the value of all existing employees and a region-wide structure with local flexibility and control.

“Although most of our counties are very similar in population and demographics, they are all a little bit different because you run the gamut from a large county such as Kent County with a population of 600,000, to a small county such as Barry and Montcalm with around 60,000 in population,” said Maas.

“We blended the staff from each of the agencies. It was a blending of key leadership, and then we made sure that was not only at the top level but also at the mid-level management position, as well.”

West Michigan Works will be led by CEO Maas, from Michigan Works Kent, Allegan and Barry counties; Angie Barksdale as chief operating officer, from Michigan Works Ottawa County; and Brenda Isenhart as chief financial officer, from Michigan Works Muskegon-Oceana counties.

The regional organization also will have a governance board comprising 10 members from Kent County, four members each from Allegan, Muskegon and Ottawa counties, and two each from Montcalm, Ionia and Barry counties.

Although West Michigan Works may downsize the square footage of its service centers located throughout the seven counties, Maas said none of the existing facilities will close. All staff members have been offered employment with the rebranded organization, and some employees are anticipated to move to the administrative office based in Grand Rapids.

“Most of them will actually be able to stay,” said Maas. “We want to do this with as little disruption as possible for any of the staff or any of the services we provide.”

West Michigan Works will continue to provide talent development support services for employers, jobs search assistance for residents and one-on-one coaching and assessments, as well as partnerships with local schools and organizations to help students explore career opportunities.

Although the practice, policy or procedure for certain services may alter due to the unification, Maas said the new structure really simplifies the system and will result in better services.

“We went through a strategic planning process about three years ago focusing on a demand-driven system. Our employers are crying for talent in some cases, and that talent has a broad definition,” said Maas.

“We have all had different policies, procedures, practices and our boards in some cases have moved in different directions as far as how to tackle some of these issues. It is really an alignment of policies, procedures and practices to make sure we are working together to meet employers’ needs.”

Through the collaboration, employers can benefit from access to enhanced assessment of trends for the region, training needs and a larger talent pool, while job seekers can receive better placement in programs and unified services from different centers, according to a press release.

Jim Fisher, director of Padnos Aluminum and chair of the Muskegon-Oceana Workforce Development Board, said regionalization is a smart business move that will benefit all of West Michigan.

“Employers are looking for qualified candidates, and it doesn’t matter what county they come from,” said Fisher.

With the exception of Kent County, roughly 50 percent of all county residents commute to employment beyond their county residence, according to commuting data released by the organization. While roughly 74 percent of Kent County residents work within the area, only 33 percent of Ionia residents work within Ionia County, and roughly 26 percent of Allegan County residents work within the county’s boundary.

Jon Hofman, human resource manager for Holland Board of Public Works and chair of the Ottawa County Workforce Development board, said the collective voice is louder than any individual agency.

“West Michigan Works will be better equipped to attract and retain talent, helping to ensure economic prosperity for the region,” said Hofman.

As West Michigan Works establishes its board and finalizes the transition by Oct. 1, Maas said the collaboration will result in better services for both employers and clients in West Michigan.

“I’m certainly very passionate about our programs and our services,” said Maas. “We want to use this as an opportunity to recognize that each of us has done great work and now (we will) take any of those best practices from the current entities and turn them into common practices across the region.”

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