Employers at risk of losing $37M training fund


The Gluten Free Bar is one of the 223 West Michigan employers that received funding from the Going PRO Talent Fund in 2019. Courtesy Gluten Free Bar

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) As the Michigan Legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer continue their ongoing 2020 budget dispute, the CEO of West Michigan Works! is pressing for the restoration of a training fund that develops talent across the state in answer to the skilled labor shortage.

Jacob Maas — CEO of the workforce development agency West Michigan Works!, which covers a seven-county region on the state’s west side — recently spoke to the Business Journal about what the impact would be for employers if the final state budget for 2020 does not include the Legislature’s initially allocated $37.3 million for the Going PRO Talent Fund.

According to Michigan’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO), the program — formerly known as the Skilled Trades Training Fund until last year when it was rebranded — “makes awards to employers to assist in training, developing and retaining current and newly hired employees.” The funds are disbursed through Michigan’s workforce development system, the Michigan Works! agencies.

Maas said the state’s workforce arm went “to great lengths” to create a program that provides flexibility, uses funds effectively and delivers “a substantial ROI” via the following framework: 

• Applications are funded based on demonstrated need and the merits of the training plans — customized training programs, created in partnership with local community colleges and training institutions, that address their specific training needs. 

• Employers are required to invest in the program. Between employer cash, in-kind contributions and other funding streams, $60 million was leveraged last year for workforce training.

• The training must lead to a transferrable, industry-recognized credential. This ensures the fund is creating a skilled workforce that benefits the entire state.

Since Going PRO’s inception, nearly $100 million has been awarded to more than 3,000 businesses across the state, resulting in the retention of 72,542 jobs, Maas said. 

He added West Michigan employers have consistently received about 20% of the funds allocated since the program began in 2014.

Last year alone, 223 West Michigan employers trained 2,423 existing workers and 4,447 new hires with Going PRO awards totaling $9.5 million.

A full list of manufacturing, health care, IT, construction and agribusiness employers who benefited from the awards last year, as reported by the Business Journal, is available at bit.ly/goingpro2019.

Maas said the fund has provided “critical support” for employers who are facing a projected workforce gap of over 500,000 by 2026 due to a shortage of skilled labor.

“Our employers in West Michigan struggle with finding, hiring and retaining qualified talent, and the Going PRO Talent Fund has always been one of those funding streams that have helped employers establish apprenticeship programs and classroom training that upskills their current workforce and fills vacancies so they’re able to upskill by creating internal programs and then backfilling with those entry-level jobs,” Maas said. 

“It really has created a pipeline. We’ve seen relatively large employers apply and benefit from it, but really, where we’ve seen some of the most value is among the small to midsize employers who don’t know how to develop training programs or create career pathways.”

Maas said 368 West Michigan employers — including 179 who have never applied before — already submitted requests for Going PRO funds totaling $15 million before the application period closed Oct. 2.

“Lack of funding will jeopardize their ability to invest in their workforce and in the economic well-being of our region,” he said — especially in regard to starting and maintaining apprenticeship programs and upskilling workers.

On Nov. 7, because of a disagreement over how to limit the powers of the executive branch in the future, the Michigan Senate rejected a possible deal negotiated between Whitmer and the House to reverse some of the line-item vetoes, continuing the budget impasse likely until December, unless a surprise breakthrough occurs.

Maas attended a Senate hearing in Lansing on Nov. 12 to present his case for restoring funding, alongside representatives from organizations such as Spectrum Health, Star Truck Rentals, Allied Mechanical and Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital.

“The Going PRO Talent Fund is meeting a real need in Michigan. Now is not the time to pull the plug,” Maas said.

More information about the Going PRO fund is available on the LEO website at bit.ly/LEOgoingpro.

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