Economic Development, Higher Education, and Human Resources

Education, business leaders push talent

GRCC, MCC and high schools among those creating programs to prepare students for workforce.

July 6, 2018
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With Michigan’s lack of talent at the forefront of concerns in the business community, the area’s education and business leaders are working to better prepare young people for the workforce.

There are several new partnerships between local high schools, colleges and businesses forming, many of which give students hands-on experience that can lead them straight into jobs. Other partnerships allow students to earn college degrees early and therefore enter the workforce sooner.

One of these developing partnerships is between Grand Haven-based tier-one automotive supplier Shape Corp. and Grand Haven Area Public Schools.

Starting in the fall, Grand Haven students will be able to take a class in areas such as metrology, automation and robotics and mechatronics, which all are areas in which Shape needs or will need workers.

Julie Davidson, Shape’s director of talent acquisition, said the plan is to create a high school program to develop talent for skilled trades.

“There’s just not enough current people in the workforce to make up for the baby boomers exiting,” Davidson said.

She said the elimination of shop classes in school has made it difficult to train new workers in trades. She said those young workers lack even the basic skills necessary for trade jobs, and critical thinking skills seem to be missing.

Davidson gave a presentation about the need for talent, where she learned about the Society of Manufacturing Engineers’ PRIME program focused on establishing high school manufacturing education centers.

With a $325,000 investment from Shape, SME developed a curriculum for Grand Haven students based on Shape’s needs and purchased equipment for an education lab at the school.

Davidson is in discussion with Muskegon Community College about joining the partnership with Grand Haven. Davidson hopes to offer students a 13th-year dual enrollment program that would allow them to graduate with associate degrees in areas such as electronics or mechanics. The following year, the students would either finish an apprenticeship at Shape or pursue a four-year engineering degree.

Muskegon Community College also is doing its part to better prepare students.

Kelley Conrad, MCC vice president for academic affairs, said top leadership at the college visited different companies asking what they needed. Other companies approached the college about training workers.

She was told the biggest need is for engineers, and there are multiple jobs in that field.

With the opening of the college’s $14.81-million Carolyn I. and Peter Sturrus Technology Center in downtown Muskegon earlier this year, she said capacity increased to create more programs to help with the issue.

Among other existing programs, MCC is launching a new option for early college students interested in STEM careers. In partnership with the Muskegon Career Tech Center and local manufacturing companies, the college is creating the Accelerated Technical Institute for students interested in engineering or mechatronics.

Beginning in their senior year of high school, students will work toward an applied technology associate’s degree or prep for transfer to a four-year college for engineering, while gaining work experience through internships.

“The intent is to help close the skills gap,” said John Selmon, MCC provost. “We try to help prepare students for the next level.”

Grand Rapids Public Schools and Grand Rapids Community College recently announced another new partnership, which will extend the existing Grand Rapids Learning Center partnership — which helps identify a career path or transition to college — to better include all students in the city.

GRCC President Bill Pink said the effort is meant to support students to overcome whatever obstacles they face and make college education more affordable and accessible.

He said the district and college will build on collaborations with the business and philanthropic communities to help students overcome challenges and provide opportunities to explore and gain skills for future careers.

“Grand Rapids has made tremendous strides in recent years, but our schools, our college and our city as a whole can’t truly thrive unless everyone has the opportunity to reach their potential,” Pink said. “That means we, as a community, need to do more to help reach all of our students, helping them overcome any barriers to get the K-12 and college education they need.”

Teresa Weatherall Neal, superintendent of GRPS, said the partnership is meant to keep certain students from being left behind. She said giving students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience is beneficial because it opens their eyes to what sorts of jobs are available.

“Part of it is to provide additional opportunities for students so they can find their way,” she said. “Not everyone is going to go to a four-year university, but they still need to advance their learning, and the best way to do that is through partnerships.”

This program is one of many GRPS offers to benefit students post-high school.

Starting in 2020, the Challenge Scholars Program allows Union High School students to earn up to four years of tuition-free college or technical training at one of more than 40 schools, including Grand Valley State University, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan.

The Summer Learning Academy Cruisin’ to College program gives students the ability to earn college credit, improve college math skills, explore career opportunities and visit area colleges and universities.

In the district’s Academy of Design and Construction, students can earn credit toward college or trades certification, working with partners such as Rockford Construction, Triangle Associates, Christman Co., Progressive AE, Michigan State University, Ferris State University and GRCC.

GRPS also works with GRCC success coaches to help students grow academically and explore opportunities for postsecondary education and careers.

Weatherall Neal said she is exploring additional partnership opportunities, such as one with Experience Grand Rapids, which would give students skills in the hospitality field. She also is looking to partner with police and fire departments, as well as technology companies.

Weatherall Neal said giving students these local opportunities allows them to find jobs in the growing community, if this is where they would like to stay.

“If they want to stay here in our community, we want to encourage them to do that,” she said.

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