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Leaders of Gov. Whitmer administration bring ‘Home for Opportunity Tour’ to Battle Creek

Posted at 1:58 PM, Feb 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-17 13:58:09-05

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — Friday, leaders of Gov. Whitmer's cabinet hosted her post-State of the State “Home for Opportunity Tour” in Battle Creek with an executive roundtable that focused on helping local employers fill their talent pipeline with qualified workers, followed by a tour of the new Kellogg Community College Regional Manufacturing Technology Center.

"We gathered valuable feedback from local business and education leaders about the vast opportunities ahead to address the state’s talent gap and reach educational attainment goals – and ultimately lead Michigan to a healthier, stronger economy,” said Talent and Economic Development (Ted) Department of Michigan Acting Director Stephanie Beckhorn. "Preparing our students today for the careers of tomorrow will help Michigan fill an estimated 811,000 jobs coming open through 2024, mostly in the fields of information technology, computer science, manufacturing, healthcare and professional skilled trades."

Michigan’s working-age population is projected to decline by 7 percent between 2020 and 2030 – the steepest drop of any state in the nation and the single greatest threat to Michigan’s economy, Beckhorn said.

“We encourage businesses like those gathered here today in Calhoun County to open their doors to teachers and counselors, to have job fairs and to invite the community in to help find solutions. By utilizing their partners and encouraging everyone to take an active role, we will position our state as a leader in talent development and business growth.”

Employers and educators aren't alone in efforts to collaborate - they can reach out to their local Michigan Works! Agency who is ready and waiting to provide services and support to Michigan’s workforce development systems in their area.

"Our team invests heavily in the relationships between local businesses and educators - making sure we have a good pulse on the business needs, connecting those businesses with local education programs, and ultimately making sure students and job seekers have access and knowledge about these high-demand career paths," said Michigan Works! Southwest Director Ben Damerow.

The “Home for Opportunity Tour,” comprising 50 events across Michigan, is designed to maximize outreach and engagement by reaching every corner of Michigan, from Battle Creek to Marquette to Detroit.

One of the barriers the state seeks to remedy is the public’s assumption that apprenticeships and careers in Professional Trades are invariably linked to automotive-related manufacturing.

In fact, now more than ever, a wide range of Michigan employers are on the lookout for young, eager-to-learn apprentices interested in pursuing careers in information technology and computer science, healthcare and high-tech manufacturing, as well as construction and other Professional Trades such as plumbing, electrical and brick masonry.

To address the issue, Ted has launched Going PRO, a campaign to attract students to Professional Trades careers, including filling 6,200 jobs this year. The campaign involves connecting employers with education leaders to align curriculum with employers’ needs, grassroots events such as public forums with students and parents to inform them about Professional Trades career opportunities, and paid advertising.

The Going PRO Talent Fund [] provides competitive awards to assist in up-skilling, developing or retaining current and new employees through public-private partnerships. In 2018, the Going PRO Talent Fund awarded $29 million in grants to 780 employers across the state. Many Battle Creek-area recipients attended Friday’s executive roundtable event.

“We appreciate those dollars and are using them not only to upgrade the talent of our existing workforce but also to attract and train new workers,” said Paul David, Human Resources Manager for I I Stanley [], an automotive lighting manufacturer in Battle Creek and recipient of a $38,850 grant in 2018.

Whitmer’s proposals to increase the number of Michiganders with postsecondary credentials to 60 percent by 2030 includes introducing My Opportunity Scholarships that offer qualified high school graduates a debt-free path to community college or two years of tuition assistance at a four-year public or private not-for-profit college/university.

“This provides a tremendous opportunity and advantage for young adults who are extremely concerned about a large debt looming over them when they complete their credentialed training or degree,” said Kellogg Community College President Mark O’Connell.

Whitmer also plans to create the Michigan Reconnect initiative to ensure adults working in in-demand industries have a tuition-free pathway to a certificate or associate degree. The aim is to up-skill workers age 25-plus looking to take the next step in their careers, assist employers seeking a source of qualified talent, create an avenue for displaced workers to re-enter the workforce, and promote Michigan as a place with a highly skilled population.

“We need applicants who want to be there,” said Brianna Underwood of Grace Health in Battle Creek, who attended today’s executive roundtable.

In addition to the roundtable, industry leaders and Ted officials received a preview tour of KCC’s Regional Manufacturing Technology Center, which is undergoing a $4.3 million renovation to prolong the life of the 29-year-old facility.

The improvements, slated for completion by mid-2019, include reconfiguring areas to serve local employers, dedicated space for Michigan Works! personnel, replacement of heating, cooling and electrical systems, expansion of instructional space and repaving of drives and parking lots.