Region goes back to school on talent


Joe Quick, director of business solutions and training for the Michigan Works! Association, speaks with members of Talent Pipeline Management Academy. Courtesy Consumers Energy

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has schooled a group of West Michigan stakeholders on connecting the dots between training providers and employers.

Consumers Energy and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Center for Education and Workforce partnered in October to launch the first statewide Talent Pipeline Management (TPM) Academy in the nation.

Its inaugural class — which graduates the end of April — consists of 20 leaders and CEOs from Michigan chambers of commerce, nonprofits, and economic and workforce development organizations.

This region’s students included Deb Lyzenga, West Michigan Works!, Grand Rapids; Kevin Stotts, Talent 2025, Grand Rapids; Kellee Kortas, Lakeshore Advantage, Zeeland; and Jen Wangler, The Right Place, Grand Rapids.

The U.S. chamber sent its own instructors to teach participants how to be the link between employers and training providers to meet critical short- and long-term employment needs.

Lyzenga said the curriculum is based on the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s four-year-old TPM initiative, which applies supply chain principles to the skills gap.

“This gives us the common language of supply chain management and driving home the employers are really the ones in charge of telling workforce developers and educators what they need in a skilled worker,” she said.

The program, funded by grants from Consumers Energy Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, costs $500 per participant and includes meals, training, project management and access to the program’s web-based tools for two years.

Sessions for the first cohort have been held in Grand Rapids, Lansing and Troy.

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce takes us through six strategies in class, and we move through those strategies over those three two-day meeting events,” Lyzenga said.

“We take it back to our region and start applying the principles of what we learned, then we come back and begin learning the next few strategies.”

The curriculum’s six directives include:

  • Plan and implement an employer collaborative

  • Engage in “demand planning”

  • Communicate competency and credentialing requirements

  • Analyze talent flows

  • Build talent supply chains

  • Continually improve

Lyzenga compared the course to the Business Solutions Professional certification through Michigan Works!, which trains community leaders to make use of an array of business and economic resources.

“This is an enhancement,” she said. “It gives everybody a common language throughout the state on supply chain management of talent.”

Sharon Miller, talent architect project manager for Consumers Energy and project lead for the Michigan TPM Academy, said Consumers participated in the TPM curriculum pilot four years ago and was pleased with the outcome, so its leadership approached the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation about starting the first state-based academy.

“We had continuously been hearing talent was the largest barrier to growth and economic development,” Miller said. “Our senior vice president at the time, Dan Malone, wanted to help our business customers grow because if they can’t grow, we can’t grow.”

After participating in the pilot, Consumers Energy in 2015 used the methodology to pinpoint a need for skilled electric and gas lines worker positions, which Miller said pay $28 per hour.

The company projected its demands, identified competencies and expanded training partnerships with preferred providers for electric line workers and a veteran-specific training program in conjunction with its union that resulted in 100 qualified hires in a two-year period.

Out of that 100, “we have 98 percent retention,” Miller said. “We no longer advertise for our electric lines program because we now have a pipeline.”

She said Consumers currently is working on an information technology collaborative in Jackson — but the needs don’t stop there.

“When you talk about skilled trades, journeyman’s level is the hardest, and we have not tackled that,” Miller said. “We probably will spend some time on it the next year and a half in the consortium. It’s hard to do because you’re not creating new workers, you’re training existing ones.”

Miller said one of the ways she made the curriculum Michigan-specific was to invite employers in the state — such as hotel and bank executives, as well as a representative from Herman Miller — to come to the training sessions and share their experiences.

Stotts, president of Talent 2025, said he finds the TPM Academy’s employer-centric approach to be “an effective tool” for identifying the best sources of talent and helping employers create partnerships to improve the talent flow.

“In a tight labor market, employers can’t be passive about finding talent,” Stotts said. “I see the model hitting on a lot of the pain points we’re hearing from the HR level and CEO level.”

Stotts said after he graduates, his organization’s first move will be to start an employer collaborative with the energy industry, particularly DTE Energy. After that is underway, he plans to shift his focus to the hospitality/food service sector.

Lyzenga said her organization plans to start collaboratives in the highest-demand industries it serves, including IT, health care, manufacturing, construction and agriculture.

Stotts said he appreciates the “learning and doing” emphasis in the curriculum, but he thinks it would be beneficial in the future to show the new cohorts outcomes of sector partnerships on the first day of class.

“Say ‘Here’s what they ended up getting as a result,’ as an introduction, then over the course of the academy, go over the individual modules as part of the curriculum,” he said. “I have to see what I’m going to learn and then show me how to do it.”

Miller said she is in the process of scheduling a showcase of the graduates’ projects to be held in June in Lansing.

“They’re not done, but they are further ahead than when they started,” she said. “We will showcase the projects and help other professionals in workforce development see and understand what they’ve done.”

Lyzenga said she envisions this academy will raise the bar across the whole region.

“The ideal outcome is that when our job seekers or someone within the workforce is looking to advance in a career, they know exactly where to go — to what school or curriculum — and that when they are finished with their education, the employers know where to find them, and they are invaluable to those employers.”

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