Workforce training, higher education programs get boost in new state budget | #education | #technology | #training


Michigan’s newly signed state budget aims to maintain the momentum behind a variety of programs designed to help the manufacturing industry address workforce challenges.

Of particular interest to many statewide manufacturing advocates, the state’s premier Going PRO Talent Fund from the Michigan Department of Labor and Opportunity (LEO) received a small financial bump in the new budget.

“In West Michigan, our employers have been very successful tapping into that resource,” said Angie Barksdale, COO of West Michigan Works!, a local workforce development agency.

Going PRO awards grants to manufacturers and other employers throughout the state that they can use for workforce training initiatives, from programs that train new hires to upskilling existing employees.

Originally established in 2014 as the Skilled Trades Training Fund, the program awarded $8.3 million in grants to 183 employers throughout Michigan in its inaugural year. Renamed the Going PRO Talent Fund in 2017, the program has since exploded in popularity among employers, primarily manufacturers. Last year, the state handed out $39.5 million to 1,021 employers as part of Going PRO.

This year’s budget, which took effect Oct. 1, allocated $40 million to Going PRO. Barksdale noted that the final dollar amount could creep upward over the course of the year as negotiations continue over available money that has yet to be allocated in the budget.

While the $40 million marks a slight year-over-year increase, the demand for the fund often reaches into the $50 million to $60 million range, Barksdale said. 

Michigan Works! Association, the parent organization for West Michigan Works!, worked alongside the Michigan Manufacturers Association a couple of years ago to codify the program into law.

“But that doesn’t always mean there will be money to fund the program,” said Barksdale, who along with other industry advocates, kept a close eye on the program’s fate with the new budget. “Every year, there is an effort to make sure that those funds get allocated because there is always a lot of need and everyone wants a piece of the pie.”

West Michigan employers have been prolific users of the funds and in some years have led the state in grant awards. Typically, West Michigan companies receive around 30 percent of the available money through the fund, according to Barksdale.

On the first day the application process opened for the new fiscal year earlier this month, West Michigan Works! fielded inquiries from 596 employers located in the organization’s seven-county region. Those inquiries led to 350 fact-finding meetings and 318 employers that decided to move ahead with an application for funding.

“A lot of (the training initiatives focus on) new hires,” Barksdale said. “Employers, especially with the market the way that it is, are taking bigger risks with hiring individuals that might not be fully trained yet. There is also a growing emphasis in our region on apprenticeships and getting those new systems in place.”

Training 4.0

While much of the surge in demand for training stems from manufacturers trying to address the crippling workforce shortage, it also comes at a time when the state is simultaneously pushing Industry 4.0 for small to mid-size manufacturers. This approach to manufacturing implements advanced technology to automate and bring newfound efficiency to outdated manufacturing processes. At the same time, many workers need training to learn that new technology.

Earlier in the year, the Michigan Economic Development Corp. doled out $1.9 million to manufacturing-minded organizations across the state to develop Industry 4.0-related resources for manufacturers in their areas.

The goal behind the program was to position half of all Michigan manufacturers to adopt Industry 4.0 technologies by 2025.

“Now, what I see the state doing is coming alongside of (manufacturers) and saying we recognize that education is a key component to being able to leverage Industry 4.0 and advance a manufacturing facility to a point where they can become more efficient and globally competitive,” said Jennifer Deamud, executive director of Manufacturing Growth Alliance.

Deamud said she was “thrilled” to see Going PRO receive a small bump in this year’s budget and noted the funding comes at a time when manufacturers are desperate to train anyone who walks through their doors looking for a job.

“I’ve had manufacturers that say, ‘I just want a warm body. Give me a warm body and I’ll train them,’’’ Deamud said. “You might chuckle at that, but it’s so true.”

New talent pools

In addition to the Going PRO Talent Fund, the state’s steady funding for programs like Futures for Frontliners and Michigan Reconnect will also help drive more individuals to higher education, which could open up new pools of talent for the manufacturing sector, according to industry watchers.

The new state budget allocated $25 million in restricted funds for Futures for Frontliners, which provides funding to help frontline workers attend community college for free. 

Michigan Reconnect, which offers adults over the age of 25 a tuition-free path to an associate degree or certificate program, received $55 million in the new budget. The state allocated an additional $6 million in wrap-around services to further remove barriers standing between Michigan residents and an education.

To date, the state estimates the programs have put 167,000 residents on a tuition-free path to higher education or skills training. 

According to Cindy Brown, vice president of talent initiatives for West Michigan economic development organization The Right Place Inc., one of the keys to further and sustained success for the programs comes down to awareness.

“(Futures for Frontliners) evolved because of the pandemic in 2020, but having it in next year’s budget is good,” Brown said. “Sometimes we think that because we’re in the know, everyone is in the know, that they understand about all these different types of programs, and they don’t.”

“The more the community colleges and our partners and economic development agencies can talk about it, people need to hear things over and over,” Brown added.





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