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Sunday, 11 November 2012 17:03

Michigan Works! shifts to regional, demand-driven workforce development

Written by  Stephanie Allen
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Michigan Works! shifts to regional, demand-driven workforce development Courtesy photo
WEST MICHIGAN — Rather than make a program and then ask employers if it’s working, the state agency Michigan Works! aims to take an “ask first, then act” approach to workforce development.

As part of a new strategic workforce development plan, Michigan Works! plans to transition to a more demand-driven program by asking employers what they need — and then helping them find solutions.

The direction shift is based off the Michigan Industry Cluster Approach, a statewide program initiative which pushes state agencies toward more regionally focused industry relationships.

By taking a regional approach to broad industry sectors in manufacturing, energy, information technology, agriculture and health care, the agency says it will be better able to develop in-depth industry expertise, to meet talent and training needs and to work with a range of companies in “collaborative problem-solving.”

Officials at the agency say the new approach should positively affect economic and workforce development because it allows employers to determine the in-demand jobs and skills and to help develop training processes needed to prepare available talent for those jobs.

“We’re looking to get people into jobs faster with full-time retention,” said Jane Kreha, marketing and communications coordinator at Michigan Works! for Kent and Allegan counties.

She said the current program has been working, but it’s been lacking by not fully listening to employers’ needs and only meeting the state’s training requirements.

To aid in the regionalization, the Kent and Allegan counties agency hired the Indianapolis-based, Thomas P. Miller and Associates to help review and assess the current workforce environment. Kreha said the agency is beginning the process by reaching out to employers and asking what they want to see in the program.

“We can’t make this work without their input,” she said.

So far, they’ve seen a positive response from employers, said David Smith, The Employers’ Association president and board member for Michigan Works! Kent and Allegan counties.

“Right now, we’re seeking businesses to provide input and support for some of the changes that we would like to make based on business needs,” Smith said. “We’re not trying to tell the businesses what you need, but we’re asking businesses what they need.”

The Kent and Allegan counties agency isn’t the only Michigan Works! group looking to act on a more regional basis. Bill Raymond, executive director of Ottawa County Michigan Works!, said the statewide workforce development organization has been moving in the demand-driven direction for some time.

“The other Michigan Works! — Muskegon, Oceana to the north — they’re doing some of the same types of changes as they move into the demand-driven perspective,” Raymond said. “It’s going on all around us.”

The Kent/Allegan and Ottawa County agencies have already been working together, but Raymond expects to align even further.

“Our employees come from the same area, and our businesses draw from that bank of employees,” Smith said. “We … have seen some talent gaps in terms of shortages of qualified talent. Hopefully if we’re able to work together to marshal our strengths, and by also trying to identify weaknesses, we can create a lot stronger pool of candidates for employers that are here now, but also create a pool of candidates for employers that are considering coming into this region, which will strengthen our whole regional economy.”

Jay Dunwell, Wolverine Coil Spring president and board member for Michigan Works! Kent and Allegan counties, said it’s necessary for Michigan Works! to figure out what role it plays in economic development with other West Michigan programs, such as The Right Place Inc.

“There’s a lot of companies that reach out to employers, listen to employers, try to respond to employers’ needs,” Dunwell said. “I think it’s important that Michigan Works! figures out how it can play in that space of reaching out to employers and not trying to duplicate efforts in the community, but rather identify what it’s really good at and then augment the services that some of these other agencies are currently providing.”

As industry clusters come together, Michigan Works! will be able to identify certain skill and talent gaps that are present, and hopefully be able to properly address them, Dunwell said.

Dunwell said he thinks the agencies, by working collaboratively, can help employers to more efficiently address their talent and training needs.

“We’re just going to help this whole region that much more,” Dunwell said.

He said finding all the staffing, skills, talent and knowledge needs will help West Michigan businesses grow, and hopefully create an all-around better economy.

The new direction should also allow more businesses to use the services, Kreha said.

The regionally focused program won’t necessarily be larger, but rather better able to serve more employers.

“It’s exciting for the board to hear from the leaders of assets … that say we need to be in tune with what businesses are going through,” Dunwell said. “Not to minimize the struggle that clients that walk through the front door are having, but if you listen to businesses and understand what their needs are, hopefully the system works where those individuals, those clients who are walking through the doors, have a much better chance of finding able employment.”

Read 3966 times Last modified on Sunday, 11 November 2012 20:49

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