GRCC joins Farmers to train workers


    Grand Rapids Community College is teaming up with Farmers Insurance in Caledonia to train nearly 1,300 new employees between 2011 and 2014, college and company officials said last week.

    Under the Michigan New Jobs Training Program, some $5 million in payroll taxes from the new hires will pay for the training, according to GRCC Dean of Workforce Development Fiona Hert.

    The program permits a Michigan community college to either issue debt or tap into its own resources to fund the training, according to the Michigan Community Colleges Association website. The college is then repaid via the diversion of withholding taxes from the paychecks of the newly trained and hired workers.

    GRCC also will help Steve Mulder, director of the University of Farmers Grand Rapids, to develop the program, Hert said.

    Mulder said an entire floor of one of the two buildings under construction at the Farmers site will be devoted to the company’s University of Farmers training programs. The company employs 1,775 there now.

    “We are very excited about it. We intend to hire up to 1,600 new employees here in West Michigan. This training grant is earmarked for training of those new employees,” Mulder said.

    “The training will be mostly for call center employees. Some of it will be highly technical in terms of processing systems and products. Some of it will be more generic — computer skills, even typing skills.”

    Customer experience, communication and leadership skills also could be on the agenda for some employees, he said.

    “Some of these folks are actually required to be licensed by the state as insurance agents, so part of the funding will go toward their licensing,” he added.  

    The needs may change over time and the grant is flexible enough to accommodate that.

    “We’ve been working with GRCC the last three or four months putting together this proposal. We will be hiring lots of different folks in lots of different roles.”

    Mulder said hiring is expected to begin in 2011 and stretch into 2014.

    Farmers could use a mix of GRCC, local resources and staff to design and conduct the training, he added. It will be delivered as in-person, online and video modules.

    Hert said GRCC has four similar programs ongoing, but this is the first in Kent County. The others are in Ottawa County and include Energetx, Johnson Control, Haworth and TransMatic. They account for nearly 2,000 new jobs.

    The New Jobs Training Program is available to cover training for companies that are bringing in full-time jobs that are not replacements for layoffs

    The GRCC Board of Trustees approved the Farmers program last week.

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