Lansing Region Prepares 21st Century Workforce with Job Skills for Success

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of unfilled jobs in the greater Lansing region, a combination of low pay, part-time positions as well as plenty of high paying, lifetime career jobs begging for applicants and an array of services and support groups to help workers land them.

With training programs, partnerships, financial support and counseling, organizations like Capital Area Michigan Works!, Lansing Economic Area Partnership, the Capital Area Manufacturing Council as well as schools and businesses are engaged in building job skills and ensuring that the region has the 21st century workforce it needs to succeed.

“We’re in the middle of a perfect storm,” said Stephanie Comai, director of the Michigan Talent Investment Agency. The agency, formed by Gov. Rick Snyder just a year-and-a-half ago, was formed to deal with the state’s skilled worker shortage.

“Baby boomers are on the edge of retirement and we have not done a good job alerting young people about opportunities. We’ve done a strong job getting kids to go to college, but many jobs do not require a four-year university degree,” said Comai.

The Talent Investment Agency coordinates programs geared to job preparedness, career-based education, worker training, employment assistance and unemployment insurance. It promotes a listing of Michigan’s top 50 high-demand, high-wage jobs along with projected openings, growth rates, median wages and job requirements. Topping the list is physicians and surgeons with a median wage of $86.17 an hour and 434 openings annually. At the bottom are heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers with a median wage of $18.39 an hour and 1,565 openings.

The hot-job list includes 18 careers that do not require four years of college or more. Registered nurses, diagnostic medical sonographers and dental hygienists only need associate’s degrees and millwrights, electricians, steamfitters and operating engineers are all jobs that fall into the broad category of “skilled trades.” This is a sweet spot for Capital Area Michigan Works!, said its Executive Director, Edythe Hatter-Williams.

“Businesses are our primary customer. For us, we are the connector. Our role is educating the business community and education community about the importance of working together so that we have the workforce we need,” said Hatter-Williams.

Capital Area Michigan Works! provides funds for training and job support needs like clothing, transportation or licensing. It partners with businesses like Peckham, Inc. and General Motors as well as schools like Michigan State University, Lansing Community College and Ferris State University on career development.

Besides regional programs promoting jobs and careers in the manufacturing sector, there are initiatives focused on information technology jobs such as internship programs for students and non-students. Apprenticeships are also available, many pay workers while they learn, promising high paying, high-skilled jobs when completed.

Consumers Energy sponsors apprenticeships and internship programs to develop technical and managerial skills. It has a two-year apprentice program with Lansing Community College to train electric line workers, which Stacy Mowrer, director of learning and development at Consumers Energy termed “an enormous success.”

“Students go to school at LCC. They receive part of their training there and come on-site at our Marshall training center. Students come out of the program as trained linesmen and have most of the credits needed for an associate’s degree,” said Mowrer.

To date the program has 98 graduates, virtually all working for Consumers Energy or other utilities, Mowrer said. Recently, the company initiated a pilot training program called Power for America, which trains veterans for jobs in the company’s natural gas division. It selected 40 veterans for a four-week training program. From that class, 37 went on to a 90-day internship with the company where they earned $20 per hour, learning excavation skills for Consumers’ pipe replacement program. After completing the internship, they will be job ready.

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Other businesses also offering apprenticeships are Demmer Corporation for welding/fabrication and machining; Franchino Mold and Engineering for CNC (computer numerical control) machinist and mold makers; and Roberts Sinto for electricians.

Cameron Tool Corp. in Lansing, employee-owned and specializing in metal stamping, machining, engineering and design, has 15 apprentices learning CNC machining and tool and die making. Its program requires 8,000 hours of on-the-job training and completion of classroom work, said Human Resources Manager Carey Oberlin. “When they finish we hope they will stay and work with us.”

Graduating apprentices are certified by the U.S. Department of Labor as CNC operators or tool and die makers, a transferable credential. At Cameron, they earn $18.50 an hour after completing the three- to four-year program and are encouraged to extend their training, which can lead to more responsibility and higher pay, Oberlin said.

Cameron is among the companies offering apprenticeship programs that are affiliated with the Capital Area Manufacturing Council whose members in 2015 secured $381,000 in state Skilled Trade Training Funds to train and hire workers. Also, the Council sponsors industry tours to interested students in manufacturing careers and even a summer camp in Ingham County focused on welding and precision machining.

“We encourage our members to start apprenticeship programs in their companies and they are coming back pretty strong,” said Michelle Cordano, executive director of the Capital Area Manufacturing Council.

Unlike businesses whose employees’ skills are taught in schools and colleges, manufacturers often must train their workers, which is costly and time consuming.

“But they get the opportunity to train individuals to their company’s processes and equipment. What you have after four years is a very specialized worker,” Cordano said. She explained that the growth in apprenticeship programs is aided by an improving economy which, in turn, allows businesses to invest in worker programs.

One of the strategies employed to build workforce skills is to focus on interesting students in jobs and careers. On Oct. 7, the Capital Area Manufacturing Council will commemorate National Manufacturer’s Day with student tours of local businesses. The Council wants to expose 500 students and school officials to mid-Michigan’s manufacturing community.

Schools participating in National Manufacturer’s Day activities include Eaton Regional Education Service Agency (RESA), Grand Ledge High School, Charlotte and Eaton Rapids high schools, Capital Area Career Center, Clinton RESA, Mason High School and the Lansing School District, which has as many as 800 of its students involved in programs that look ahead to jobs and careers.

With a strong focus on higher education for career success, people often forget there are a multitude of job opportunities and career paths that can be achieved without a four-year or higher degree. Greater Lansing is a diverse community that offers educational opportunities for a variety of learners. With so many training and job support resources available to workers in the region, achieving a high paying job is within reach.

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Mickey Hirten

Mickey Hirten

Mickey Hirten is an award winning writer and editor. He has been executive editor of the Lansing State Journal, the Burlington Free Press in Vermont, and was the financial editor and a columnist for the Baltimore Evening Sun. He is the current president of the Michigan Press Association. His wife, Maureen Hirten, is director of the Capital Area District Library.

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