Training fund bumps up pool to $20 million


The state program designed to support employer-responsive training increases to $20 million as it launches a third round of funding this fall.

West Michigan Works!, a workforce solutions agency, is encouraging employers interested in adding to the skills of current or new employees to begin preparing for the third round of the competitive Skilled Trades Training Fund grant application process, which officially launches Oct. 1 with $20 million available in the annual fund.

Originally established in 2013 to help companies meet their talent needs, the STTF provides competitive grant awards to employers interested in creating responsive training programs for new or existing employees.

The state-level program leverages collaboration among the Michigan Works! agencies, local economic development organizations and educational partners such as community colleges or technical schools to develop a short-term, demand-driven employee training program.

Jacob Maas, executive director of Area Community Service Employment and Training, the administrative arm of Michigan Works!, said the program is working for West Michigan.

“Employers are investing in their employees, businesses are better able to meet growing demand and, in many cases, they’re expanding,” said Maas.

The training programs should lead to a transferable credentialed skill, permanent full-time employment or continued full-time employment, and can include classroom instruction, on-site training and wage reimbursement for individuals to be hired, or apprenticeships, according to the Michigan Workforce Development Agency’s STTF overview.

Deb Lyzenga, business services manager for West Michigan Works!, said while the timeline for the third-annual round remains the same, there are a few changes to the STTF program this year, including the amount of funding available for businesses throughout the state has increased to $20 million, up from $10 million in 2014.

“I think it is due to the demand and then to the success that the program has seen. Last year we were probably five weeks into opening the grant to employers and it was primarily gone. That is pretty fast,” said Lyzenga.

“We were very fortunate in the West Michigan area to receive almost $3 million of the $10 million, but there is a lot of employer need for up-skilling employees, hiring and training employees, and, of course, the apprenticeship program.”

Two additional changes this year are the apprenticeship training covers individuals who are registered up to three months prior to the date of the application rather than only new apprentices, and new hires only have to be obtained by the business 90 days prior to the full grant fund allocation, according to Lyzenga.

Across the state, more than 1,700 jobs were created, roughly 9,200 employment positions were retained, and the employment retention rate at six months was 92 percent for the fiscal year 2014.

Fiscal year 2015 saw approximately 2,400 jobs created, nearly 6,100 jobs retained and a training completion rate of 98 percent, according to the Workforce Development Agency’s STTF dashboard.

Michigan’s Prosperity Region 4, which includes the West Central Prosperity Region and the West Michigan Prosperity Region, received 75 funding awards totaling nearly $2.9 million for fiscal year 2014, and approximately 99 awards totaling nearly $2.89 million were allocated in fiscal year 2015.

Lyzenga said one reason for West Michigan’s success in securing nearly $3 million in funding both years was early education for businesses and conducting information sessions after receiving regulations from the state by mid-August.

“I think the reduction related to other employers in the state understanding the value of skilled trades, so there was just more competitiveness for the funds,” said Lyzenga in reference to the difference in the two years. “We always start early. We do our site visits right after the information sessions if an employer is interested in meeting with us and pursuing the grant.”

During the last grant cycle, some of the local employers who received funding to hire and train employees included Agape Plastics, Butterball Farms, Cascade Engineering, CTC Acquisition Co., Die Cad Group, Fields Fire Protection, Genzink Steel, Hearthside Foods, Jireh Metals, Mico Industries, Plasan Carbon Composites, Riviera Tool and Windemuller Electric Co., among others.

Mike Newell, vice president of commercial operations at Plasan Carbon Composites, said finding qualified talent within the manufacturing sector is difficult for many employers.

“It is even more of a challenge to find employees who fit our unique carbon technology,” said Newell. “It has not yet lent itself to an automated manufacturing process, and the complex designs and materials require highly skilled individuals to train in this process.”

The Walker-based carbon fiber parts supplier received roughly $238,000 during the second round of funds and committed to add more than 600 jobs in West Michigan for the next five years.

As employers continue to face workforce talent challenges, Lyzenga said the STTF program has been a tremendous success for employers who have difficulty acquiring the talent they need to accomplish jobs and remain competitive on a global scale.

“We keep hearing about this skill gap between what job seekers have and what employers need to make their business successful. This program has enabled employers to up-skill current employees, and then hire new employees for those entry-level positions,” said Lyzenga.

“This really solves that problem, and it is not just the work but the skilled work that needs to be accomplished.”

With the approaching launch of the grant application, employers are encouraged to connect with a Michigan Works! business solutions representative to develop a training plan with an economic development and educational partner if they are interested or have a need to hire new workers or enhance the skills of current workers, according to Lyzenga.

“The grant process is competitive and the funds are allocated quickly, so a complete and accurate application is critical,” said Lyzenga.

While Michigan Works! agencies are responsible for submitting applications on behalf of all local partners and any of the program’s key partners have the ability to identify eligible businesses, the Michigan Strategic Fund’s Workforce Development Agency has final project approval.

Each application is evaluated on a case-by-case basis using a weighted scoring system, which includes such criteria as: amount of employer leveraged funds; planned cost per trainee; training start date; training results in a credential, new skill or new job; and whether the company received funding in the prior year.

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