LANSING — Michigan’s No Worker Left Behind program was intended to revitalize the job market and get people working again, and recent statistics point to some success.
No Worker Left Behind is Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s initiative to train people for new careers. It focuses on unemployed and underemployed people who enroll in a training curriculum that results in a degree or certificate from community colleges or other institutions.
Of those who found jobs, 86 percent obtained one related to their core training. Of those still enrolled in the program, 77 percent are in long-term training, which is more than three times the national percentage.
“From our perspective, the program has been a great success,” said Matt Miller, executive director of college advancement at Mid Michigan Community College, which has campuses in Harrison and Mount Pleasant. “It has provided resources for people to go back to school and subsequently find employment.”
A report by the Department of Labor, Energy & Economic Growth said that 62,206 people enrolled in the program from its start in August 2007 through February 2009. Of the 34,000-plus who completed the program, 72 percent either obtained or retained jobs. While about 10,000 participants didn’t complete training, about 10,000 others who did finish were still looking for employment.
“Historically, most worker programs were tepid and poorly funded,” said Skip Pruss, director of DELEG. Pruss said most programs were generic and did not have the sustainability of No Worker Left Behind, let alone the resources or money to get people employed again.
Pruss said, “We were two decades late in terms of our economy,” referring to the lack of targeting “strategic diversification” in the job market. “We were eight times more dependent on the auto industry than anything else.”
More than 100,000 have enrolled since the program’s inception.
“One hundred thousand people through three years was our initial goal, and we just accomplished that,” said Pruss. “It was an experimental paradigm but now will be the permanent work program that will exist for years to come.
“We’re doing everything possible to create jobs,” he said.
DELEG Deputy Director Susan Corbin cited a federal program as a precedent to the state’s program. As more flexible employment opportunities were being urged at the federal level, states began to create their own job programs to put more people back to work.
And although the program has helped some to return to employment, not everyone has benefited. Twenty-eight percent of enrollees have yet to find jobs, the report said. That’s due to a lack of openings. As of September, Michigan had a 14.8 percent unemployment rate, more than five points above the national average of 9.5 percent.
Michigan still has the nation’s highest unemployment rate, and “450,000 people are still collecting unemployment, much of which is due to the hemorrhaging of the auto industry,” said Pruss.
Pruss said Granholm is convinced that a green economy is the way to diversify. Renewable energy could be a major focus of the state for decades to come, he added. “Green” jobs are a major priority for the No Worker Left Behind training, he said.