MEDC launches programs to strengthen state’s workforce

MSF approves $7.5M in Regional Talent Innovation Grants, $1.5M for Michigan STEM Forward internship program.

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation recently committed $9 million to programs that it said will address short- and long-term workforce needs in the state.

The MEDC’s Michigan Strategic Fund last month approved two programs as part of MEDC’s Talent Expansion Signature Initiative helping to strengthen Michigan’s competitive advantage when it comes to talent and workforce — particularly in retraining and upskilling the state’s existing workforce and growing its tech talent.

The two programs — the Regional Talent Innovation Grants and Michigan STEM Forward — will address near- and long-term workforce challenges for Michigan’s economy by supporting job training initiatives tailored to regional workforce demands and helping to retain STEM talent in Michigan.

The MSF approved $7.5 million for the Regional Talent Innovation Grants and $1.5 million for the Michigan STEM Forward program, which will be used over a one-year pilot period. The programs will then either be scaled up or discontinued based on their results.

“(These) actions demonstrate our focus on supporting and strengthening Michigan’s workforce as we continue to implement our Michigan Back to Work plan to get Michiganders back on their feet,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on March 23. “From building on our state’s agricultural strengths to creating vibrant communities, we remain committed to creating the places where people want to live, work, visit and play, and where businesses want to invest and grow.”

Josh Hundt Courtesy MEDC

Josh Hundt is executive vice president and business development officer at the MEDC. He said the initiatives will help strengthen Michigan’s economy and help the state work toward its goals of 60% of its workforce securing a postsecondary degree or credential by 2030 and having the largest net gain of talent in the Midwest by 2025.

“Right now, we have a workforce that has the highest concentration of engineers in the country and is a top 10 skilled trades workforce, and we need to ensure that we continue to build that pipeline of talent while also expanding into other areas of leadership, including software development and areas where we can continue to grow and have our workforce be ready for the jobs of the future,” he said.

“Both (programs) will play a role over the long term to help Michigan overcome three challenges: a shrinking talent pool, a supply/demand mismatch of talent and employment loss for lower income individuals. We want to make sure that we can overcome those challenges by having training programs like these that fill the needs and key industries in the state, that help continue to attract talent to our vibrant communities, and we want to make sure that we continue to retain our talented college graduates here in the state.”

Regional Talent Innovation Grants

This program will provide $7.5 million in community development block grant (CDBG) CARES Act funding to local economic development organizations and workforce development partners across the state through proposals for competitive training pilot programs in their regions. 

The funds will provide grants of between $500,000 and $950,000 to eligible economic development organizations or other nonprofits, which will administer the training programs and target growth in specific occupations in high demand from regional employers.

A priority will be training programs focused on low- to moderate-income individuals, particularly those living in geographically disadvantaged areas. It is expected that through these efforts, at least 750 individuals will receive training helping to address the lack of post-secondary credentials and a skills mismatch in occupations related to the MEDC’s strategic focus industries.

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in large-scale job losses across many industries, with disproportionate impacts on individuals working in low-wage occupations and those with lower educational attainment. Also as a result of COVID-19, businesses now have less capital available to dedicate toward training programs that would enable their workers to obtain industry-recognized, transferable credentials to continue upskilling, increasing their wages and supporting their families. These types of initiatives are designed to result in the upskilling and increased wages that will be required to set Michigan’s workforce on a path toward comprehensive economic recovery, while also safeguarding workers going from low-wage occupations to middle and high-skill occupations from future economic downturns.

Michigan STEM Forward

The MEDC will partner with Ann Arbor SPARK to launch the Michigan STEM Forward internship program on a statewide level. SPARK has run the program on a local level through the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti SmartZone with a decade of positive results.

In scaling the program up, MEDC will work in partnership with SPARK to place 425 to 450 STEM students currently attending Michigan colleges annually into STEM-focused internships throughout Michigan. With the support of the $1.5 million grant from the MEDC, SPARK will contribute to 50% of the interns’ pay, and participating companies will pay the remaining 50%. SPARK will track the employment status of the interns for at least 12 months to measure their retention in Michigan as well as those remaining in those knowledge positions.

“Ann Arbor SPARK is thrilled to leverage our decade of experience running our own Ann Arbor-based internship program and take the opportunity to administer the Michigan STEM Forward program on behalf of the state,” said Bill Mayer, Ann Arbor SPARK’s vice president of entrepreneurial services. “We have a solid track record of delivering results that help both businesses and job seekers. Of the students that participated in our internship program over the past five years, 84% of them accepted jobs in Michigan upon graduation. It’s vital that we not only attract talent to Michigan but retain young job seekers post-graduation as a strategy to extend the pipeline of workers available to growing companies.”

Hundt added: “These STEM careers are what are going to be important for us, to make sure that we can be successful in our goals of having a resilient, equitable and growing economy. It’s jobs like these with our talent and workforce that will help ensure that Michigan can lead the way in the national economic recovery.”

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