Employers look to second round of STTF grant process for employee training


Employers across the state are preparing to compete for the second round of state funding to develop responsive training programs for employees, which ultimately will promote Michigan’s business and economic competitiveness.

Michigan Works! Kent & Allegan Counties, a workforce development organization, held two informational sessions late last month for employers interested in learning more about the upcoming second round of the Skilled Trades Training Fund program to compete for a grant from the $10 million renewed annual fund.

Established in October 2013 for the current fiscal year to address the increasing demand for skilled workers, the STTF program allows eligible employers to apply for funding to assist in developing responsive training for current workers or provide an opportunity for new employees to learn necessary skills.

Key partners in the initiative include: Michigan’s Workforce Development Agency; Michigan Economic Development Corp.; Michigan Works! Associations; local economic developers; and multiple Michigan-based community colleges.

Deb Lyzenga, business service manager at Michigan Works! Kent & Allegan Counties, said the fund is renewed each year and is a competitive award for employer responsive training that enhances talent productivity and employment retention.

“In West Michigan, currently we are in dire straits. As a community we are — and our employers are — in trouble because we can’t find the skilled workforce they need,” said Lyzenga. “That, of course, translates into lost revenue for our community — taxes, and we want to make sure that when any funding comes our way, we take advantage of that and train the people in our community to take on those jobs. It can increase the quality and the competitiveness of Michigan businesses.”

The Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives prepared a report in 2013 that noted skilled trade occupations have a short-term growth of 2.1 percent and a forecasted expansion of 7.4 percent by 2020. Skilled trades can be divided into three subcategories of industrial, construction and service. As of 2013, two of the top 10 industries in the West Michigan region included construction and manufacturing, with 3,182 and 2,461 establishments, respectively, across 13 counties, according to West Michigan-based economic development agency The Right Place Inc.

Last month’s informational sessions covered the program elements, employer participation, eligibility, allowable training, reporting and metrics, and criteria for approval of funding. Employers who have a need for talent training can apply for grants to fund short-term classroom, on-the-job, or incumbent worker training after working with one of the STTF program partners.

Each of the skilled training programs funded by STTF is required to lead to full-time or continued employment at the business, and although each allocation is determined on a case-by-case basis, the financial framework for the training consists of: $1,500 for classroom, $1,500 for incumbent worker, $1,500 for on-the-job training, and $3,000 for an apprenticeship.

“There is a lot of technology involved with some of the jobs these days, so we are trying to have people up-skilled,” said Lyzenga. “A lot of the jobs that are available are high-paying jobs — sustaining jobs, and if we can add training to that, then we have a community that is economically viable for the future and then we grow Grand Rapids and West Michigan.”

With the nature of the training focused on achieving credentials within a three-month period, such as CNC training or project management, Lyzenga said employers that are interested in those kinds of skills and training for their employees will be more apt to receive funding in the grant process.

“It is going to be very competitive this year. Last year we took a good portion of the funds in West Michigan, and I think as more employers found out about this fund across the state, it is going to be even more competitive this year,” said Lyzenga.

“In Kent/Allegan counties, we are doing a pre-application. We can look at what issues they are facing with their workforce, take our economic partners with us … and help the employer determine exactly what kind of training they need or any up-skilling for staff. If they are interested in hiring new people, then they can talk to us about the wages to make sure that it is all eligible within the grant.”

During the first year of the STTF program, West Michigan employers received a total of $2.9 million in financial support to help up-skill current workers and hire new employees, according to Lyzenga. Several of the companies that experienced business growth through the program are: Contour Tool and Engineering, Zeeland; Sybesma’s Electronics, Holland; Disher Design & Development, Zeeland; Superior Cutting Service, Holland; Genzink Steel, Holland; and Pridgeon & Clay Inc., Grand Rapids.

John Maxson, CEO at Genzink Steel, said investing in the company’s employees is how it will achieve future success as an industry leader.

“The key to Genzink Steel’s success is our people,” said Maxson in a written statement. “Continually investing in our workforce will position us as the heavy plate fabrication leader of the future.”

Using the $20,700 grant allocated by the STTF program, Genzink had 42 employees trained at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor through a 16-hour blueprint reading, geometric tolerance and dimensions course. The company was able to provide 10 new employment positions as a result of expanding into high-demand market segments.

Pridgeon & Clay, an automotive stamped and component manufacturer and supplier, received $153,000 to hire 102 new employees and conduct on-the-job training. The company anticipated hiring additional workers this year and is currently on pace with 57 new employees so far this year.

“We had a lot of positive feedback, and several of those same employers are still growing so they have come to our employer information sessions we are holding throughout West Michigan,” said Lyzenga.

“From what I have heard from employers, they would not have been able to provide their staff with training because of the economic downturn; they are still in economic straits. I do see this as a good way to answer some of the issues of the skills gap.”

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