State Creates New Workforce Bureau To Help Train Workers

February 1, 2008
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LANSING —  The Michigan Department of Labor & Economic Growth is doing away with two bureaus and creating a single department known as the Bureau of Workforce Transformation to oversee the state’s workforce development efforts.

The new bureau, which won’t be in operation for several months, will replace the DLEG’s Bureau of Workforce Programs and Bureau of Career Education Programs. The bureau will emphasize lifelong learning and meaningful training rather than just re-employment.

Andy Levin, DLEG deputy director, said when he came on board, it didn’t make sense to him the way the two previous bureaus were organized: by federal funding stream and program instead of by customer and mission, he said.

“I realized we had two fundamental customers — workers who need a new opportunity and new training, and employers who need a better-trained work force,” he said.

“What would happen if we organized all our work around how to best serve these two customers? We are trying for the first time in a long time to have a real coherent work force strategy in Michigan. We can’t just tell people to get a new job; we have to up-skill our work force. Simply helping people find the next job isn’t good enough anymore.”

Michigan ranks 38th among states in terms of the percentage of young people who earn a college degree, Levin pointed out. It’s not among the highest educated states, and it’s not going to be in a position to diversify its economy if it doesn’t help its adult work force attain more skills, according to Levin. He said the state’s No Worker Left Behind program is a good example of the new strategy that encourages more people to earn degrees and certification.

No Worker Left Behind provides up to two years of free tuition at any Michigan community college, university or approved training program.

“People need new skills,” Levin stressed. “This is what we have to do if Michigan is going to turn itself around. It’s imperative that Michigan have the best trained work force so it’s able to compete.”

Under the new Bureau of Workforce Transformation, there will be two deputy directors: one to oversee the worker side and one to oversee the employer side. The worker side will concentrate on accelerating re-employment, lifelong learning, veterans’ services and Spanish-speaking and migrant-worker services. The employer side will focus on regional and sectoral strategies and meeting employer recruitment and training needs.

“We haven’t had the structure before to do this properly,” Levin said. “I see this as greatly enhancing our ability to help workers and employers. We’re really trying to drive home the message to the people of Michigan that we all need to have the opportunity to keep acquiring new skills, new degrees and new certificates throughout our lives.” 

The new bureau will be a seamless operation from basic adult education to graduate education, Levin said. Under the new structure, state employees will have a role in making policy on federal work force programs, he said. Historically, state workers have not been empowered, even though they administered the program and were the experts on work force development, Levin said. He plans to involve more staff in the decision-making process. 

When the state can help facilitate a person getting a certificate or degree in an occupation that is in demand in Michigan, it not only helps the worker’s family improve its prospects, it helps Michigan compete in the knowledge economy, Levin said.  

DLEG Director Keith W. Cooley said the new bureau will attack the problem from both the worker and employer sides simultaneously.

“It will place a much greater emphasis on employers as the creators of jobs — the demand side of the work force equation — so that our efforts to help Michigan workers upgrade their skills are targeted to jobs employers need filled now and in the near future,” Cooley said.

The restructuring will not require any staff cuts, he noted.

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