Businesses are new focus of Michigan Works!


Michigan Works! offices are transitioning to a more demand-driven system that takes into account information from businesses. Courtesy MiWorks

West Michigan businesses are becoming the focus of Michigan Works! in Kent and Allegan counties. The work-force development agency announced it is undertaking an assessment and strategic planning process to become a “demand-driven” system.

“There have been studies done and other work-force agencies across the nation that have done some tweaking of their systems, and it’s pretty evident that the best way to serve your job seekers is to be more focused on the demands of your employers and manufacturers in the region,” said Jane Kreha, who is in charge of marketing and communications for Michigan Works! in Allegan and Kent counties.

Kreha said that workers are unlikely to notice much of a difference, but she expects businesses will see a change. The organization hopes the assessment phase of the project will garner a lot of input from businesses in terms of what they need from the work force, now and in the next five to 10 years.

The organization also will work on improving collaborations with economic development and education organizations in the area.

“To create a great environment, as far as our work force, it does have to be the economic developers, the work-force developers, and education and training — they all have to work together,” Kreha said.

In December 2011, Gov. Rick Snyder called for an overhaul of Michigan’s work-force development programs, saying they needed to adopt a “demand-driven employment strategy.”

To help assess the region’s job-skills needs and develop a three-year strategic plan, the organization has hired Thomas P. Miller and Associates, a firm that has worked with regions in 36 states to develop similar work-force development plans.

“It’s definitely a national trend, and some places have been at it longer than others,” said Jessica Borza, vice president of work-force strategies at TPMA.

“By starting with the needs of businesses, we are actually able to improve the services we are offering to the job seekers. By really developing deep and meaningful relationships with businesses so we know more accurately what kind of skills they need, what overall challenges and opportunities there are, then we can provide better career guidance.

“Within the Michigan Works! centers, when they are working with job-seekers they can give better informed career guidance so they are guiding people into training that’s actually going to link up to a job that’s in demand and pays good wages. By getting at the businesses’ needs and developing those relationships, in turn, then the entire community benefits.”

In the past, unemployed or underemployed individuals would speak with a Michigan Works! representative about career opportunities, letting them know what area they might be interested in receiving training, and that person would help get the individual started down an education or training path for that particular type of work.

Under the new system, Michigan Works! employees will guide job seekers toward training options with more definitive employment opportunities.

“Prior to this, I think they would be more open to saying, ‘If that’s what you want to do, let’s get you into that kind of training,’” Kreha said. “Right now, the push is, ‘That’s great that you want to do that kind of training, but I don’t see the jobs there. We can’t put our money to train you in a job that is not there.’

“This is a real concerted effort to connect with the employers and say, ‘What do you have available, what kind of training do you need for people to put them in those kinds of jobs?’”

Kreha noted there used to be a big push to get everyone to graduate with a four-year degree, and now people are starting to recognize that sort of thinking and effort was a mistake.

“I think there is a real recognition that everyone does not need a four-year degree, especially with the cost of education today,” Kreha said.

“There is real value and real need in associate degrees and training in all the different trades. I think that message is getting out there. Grand Rapids Community College has done a tremendous job of creating fast-track programs to get people into positions, and they’ve been really flexible in creating curriculum to get people into jobs. I think we are on the right path.”

Kreha believes the change of focus on both the educational and training sides ultimately will better serve job seekers and businesses.

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