Agency awards $30 million in training grants


Michigan has increased the amount of Skilled Trades Training Fund grants going to the region’s employers in the upcoming year by 64 percent over last year.

Michigan’s Talent Investment Agency, the state’s workforce development entity, announced the recipients of its fiscal year 2018 Skilled Trades Training Fund (STTF) grants Dec. 6.

West Michigan Works!, a regional workforce development agency, said employers in its coverage area received $8,410,471 of the total $29,984,354 issued across the state’s 10 “prosperity regions” — an increase of 64 percent over the $5.1 million it received last year.

The West Michigan region as defined by West Michigan Works! includes Allegan, Barry, Ionia, Kent, Montcalm, Muskegon and Ottawa counties.

“With today’s low unemployment rates, these funds are more critical than ever,” said Deb Lyzenga, regional director, business solutions for West Michigan Works! “Employers will be able to increase production and employee retention by investing in the training and development of their existing workforce.

“For years, we have been talking about the skills gap; this is one of the ways employers can address it head-on.”

Created in 2013, the STTF has injected millions of dollars into the Michigan economy for short-term training in high-demand occupations such as manufacturing, health care, technology and construction.

This year, West Michigan Works! will notify 212 employers their applications are being funded in amounts ranging from $1,293 to $299,455. This is the largest number of West Michigan employers receiving funding to date, with 84 being first-time recipients.

The largest grant in West Michigan went to Zeeland-based furniture maker Herman Miller, in the amount of $229,455, plus $139,684 for its subsidiary, Meridian of Spring Lake, for a total of $369,139.

Marty Ryan, senior manager of HR consulting at Herman Miller’s Holland/Zeeland campus, wrote the grant application for Herman Miller. The funds will go toward a few areas, he said.

“Some will be used for new hires, getting them on-boarded and skilled to do their jobs. A good portion will be used for technical training in advanced manufacturing. We’re bringing in new equipment, so our employees need to be scaled up. Then our apprentice/journeyman programs will also use the grant,” Ryan said.

“About a third of the grant will be used to enhance our information technology capabilities, upgrading cloud-based computing software and technical capabilities.”

Of Herman Miller’s West Michigan workforce of 3,750, about 324 will receive training via the grant funds — 188 at Herman Miller’s main campus and 136 at Meridian.

“We’re thrilled to get that level of support from the state of Michigan, and we’ve worked in partnership with (West) Michigan Works! to get those funds,” Ryan said. “It has to do largely with maintaining our competitive position and growing and expanding in West Michigan.”

Firstronic, an electronics manufacturer in Grand Rapids, also received one of the larger grants for $106,500.

John Sammut, president and CEO, said the company has to recertify its employees in “workmanship and quality standards” every two years through IPC, the Association Connecting Electronics Industries, and the grant is a helpful way to pay for it.

“An example would be the inspection criteria for an electronic solder joint when you solder it to a circuit board,” he said.

“Other things would be component recognition for employees to recognize different types of electronic components. Also, training for employees to understand different levels of quality standards, like Class II or Class III for medical or safety devices.”

He said Firstronic received STTF grants for fiscal years 2015 and 2016, which paid for training and certifications at the time, but the company has since hired employees who were never IPC certified. If not for the grant paying for certification, he said the company would need to do on-the-job training, which is expensive and time-consuming.

Sammut expects 70 employees will benefit from the training funds, out of 180 total Firstronic employees in West Michigan.

“It’s been beneficial for us as a company because we’ve been growing rapidly over the last five years, so any opportunity to cover some of the cost of employee development is a net benefit for us,” Sammut said. “We’re increasing the base of skilled workers. Most electronic products are assembled offshore in Asia. We’re recruiting employees who have no electronic experience to hire locally, so it’s been a big help.”

Grand Rapids-based Comfort Research, which makes luxury bean bag chairs and affordable lightweight seating, received an STTF grant for $147,525.

Mike Kitchen, director of manufacturing at Comfort Research, said the company has experienced “exponential growth” over the past three-plus years.

“In order for Comfort Research to keep up with our growth, we are making significant capital investments in new equipment, which drives the need for training,” he said.

The equipment upgrades include new foam shredders and packaging machines, new tooling and a new technology platform.

“These capital investments will require extensive training to meet increased customer expectations, stay the market leader (and) drive continued job stability and growth,” Kitchen said. “These transportable skills/certifications will enable employees and Comfort Research to aggressively compete.”

He said via the grant, the company’s 105 employees will learn “lean fundamentals” and how to operate the technology platforms.

A complete list of the recipients of the STTF grants for fiscal year 2018 is available at

STTF FY18 awards by county


Source: West Michigan Works!

STTF awards by FY

Amount Awarded$3.1M$5.1M$8.4M

Source: West Michigan Works!

FY18 STTF awards by sector

Agriculture & Food Processing8
Construction, Utilities, Transportation21
Health Care25

Source: West Michigan Works!

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