Entrepreneurial effort plants focus on workforce development


The Zeeland-based economic development agency is taking what it has learned from participating in Michigan’s Talent Pipeline Management Academy, launched by Consumers Energy in 2017, and applying it to workforce advancement initiatives along the lakeshore.

As previously reported by the Business Journal, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Center for Education and Workforce developed the program, in which Consumers Energy participated in the pilot in 2015.

The aim of the program is to address the talent shortage that is affecting the state by working with educators and employers with the goal of filling unoccupied jobs. The knowledge gleaned by participants in the academy is then brought back to their hometowns and put into action.

TPM is a process that applies supply chain principles to our workforce,” said Angela Huesman, chief operating officer for Lakeshore Advantage. “If we think of employers as the end user, we look back through the pipeline at where employees come from (high school, community college, four-year university, tech programs, etc.), identify skill gaps or weaknesses in the supply chain and apply efforts toward bridging and building up those suppliers so that our future workforce is ready when hired.”

Lakeshore Advantage was a part of the first of two cohorts that entered the academy. That group had 20 individuals who were taught six strategies by instructors from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, according to Sharon Miller, the leader for Michigan Talent Architect, Learning and Development for Consumers Energy.

The six strategies were organizing employer collaboratives, engage in demand planning, communicate competency and credential requirements, analyze talent flows and continuous improvement.

Since completing the six-month program, Lakeshore Advantage has been collaborating with area employers and educators. Through one of the sessions the organization conducted, an educator revealed that one of the reasons positions are going unfilled is because of a lengthy hiring process.

Huesman said the feedback they received from one of the nine employers who are actively participating in the TPM process is that employability skills are needed most. Those skills include communication, responsibility, teamwork, time management and adaptability.

Lakeshore Advantage also is collaborating with educators at Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids Community College, Thompson M-TEC and the Careerline Tech Center, and all of that contact is involving manufacturing.

“Educators have to focus on technical skills as measurements for a student’s success,” she said. “When we have tools in place to assess employability skills and everyone is using the same language to describe those skills, then we will have the ability to build up our workforce in ways we don’t today. This is part of what TPM is designed to do — identify gaps and work toward strengthening the supply.”

According to Grand Rapids-based The Right Place, manufacturing accounts for 15% of the jobs in the region. Some of West Michigan’s larger manufacturers include Bissell, Herman Miller, ADAC Automotive, Steelcase and Wolverine Worldwide.

This summer, Huesman said Lakeshore Advantage will identify different projects and partnerships to continue the work of establishing and growing a talented workforce throughout West Michigan.

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