More participation needed in career development programs


Grand Rapids Business Journal is reporting on another initiative that links high school students with an array of career choices and the tools they need to achieve selected jobs at graduation. The program, just beginning within the Northview Public Schools using the software platform developed by Peter Whitehead and his partner, Sai Naik, is focused on science, technology, engineering and math careers, but the point is the opportunity businesses have or can create to assure a skilled workforce. The dearth of applicants for current job openings and competition in recruitment slowly is disabling the business community in West Michigan.

The Business Journal often has focused on recruitment issues in businesses across varied sectors. The involvement, and often, the creativity of businesses in developing pathways to jobs is free of the political entanglements that have choked education at every level from funding to politically correct curriculum. Political discourse devalued important manufacturing skills (i.e. technology), and parents began steering children from those careers. Skilled trades especially have been maligned by political rhetoric, until industry pressures recently reopened emphasis on training programs.

Two examples of such work have included the Western Michigan Associated Builders and Contractors and the American Subcontractors Association, which partnered to work with the schools and Michigan Works! to provide training and skilled trades education for the varied positions within the profession that is in dire need of workers.

The Business Journal also has profiled Noel Cuellar, owner of Primera Plastics, who said while other businesses after the recession focused on growth by volume and revenue, he began to recognize the looming worker shortage and focused instead on building the skills of its workers.

“Since we couldn’t find talent, we developed our own,” he said. “We’ve spent $200,000 in two years to accomplish that.”

Cuellar also is working with at-risk high school students to help prepare them for jobs in manufacturing. He instituted the Primera Pathways program, which allows sophomore-level students to join the company at $10 per hour and receive mentoring both on the shop floor and in soft skills, such as communication, personal presentation, punctuality, self-esteem and more.

The students also participate in financial intelligence classes, which Cuellar hopes will encourage them to save for a car they can use to get to and from classes at one of the local trade programs or colleges once they graduate from high school.

The examples given in West Michigan beg more participation and other creative solutions by businesses. As Cuellar noted, “We are trying to convince the younger generation to stay in Michigan. We lose a lot of them.”

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