Shawn Wright| Crain’s Detroit Business

As business in Michigan picks up, companies are growing and, as a result, need to train employees.

Figuring out where to find training programs is the next step.

Greg Pitoniak, CEO of the Taylor-based Southeast Michigan Community Alliance, has his finger on the pulse of where employers should turn to find help with their workforce talent. SEMCA is a Michigan Works agency that serves Monroe and Wayne counties and is the fiduciary for the Workforce Intelligence Network.

Before joining SEMCA, Pitoniak was Michigan’s deputy state treasurer. He also is a former mayor of Taylor and former state representative.

Besides helping employers find funding for programs, Pitoniak gives his thoughts on the role that worker training will play in the resurgence of the state’s economy and some of the challenges faced in educating today’s workforce.

What’s a good place to start for an employer that wants to seek out funding for programs that develop its workforce talent?

When referring to retraining of their incumbent workforce, a good place to start would be their local Michigan Works agency. There are 25 MWAs covering the entire state, and their contact info can be found at If the employer has an existing relationship with a local community college, it can also be a good starting point. Within Southeast Michigan, there is a formal collaboration among all the MWAs and community colleges via WIN.

What are some of the larger programs that might be useful for employers? Are there a few examples of programs that have been helpful?

In the context of training funding, the Michigan Works agencies are aware of what might be available for specific employers or industries. That could be from a variety of sources. It could be federal funds, and there is more than one federal program out there, such as the Workforce Investment Act. It is what primarily funds our system as well as some training. Another federal program is the Trade Act, which has a substantial amount of training funding. At the state level, there is a relatively new program called the Skilled Trades Training Fund that uses the state’s general fund dollars. And in the state of Michigan for this fiscal year, it’s $10 million.

But employers don’t need to know the funding sources. They should just contact Michigan Works and say, “I have a training need. Can you help me with it?”

And we’d try to figure out which one of those funding streams can potentially address one or all of their needs.

What role is workforce training playing in the resurgence of the state’s economy?

We repeatedly hear from employers that their ability to grow in Michigan is dependent upon upskilling their incumbent workforce as well as finding new talent that has the specific skills and education they need. Clearly, this suggests that the pace of Michigan’s recovery will be substantially impacted by whether or not the Michigan workforce has the relevant skills and education employers are looking for.

As the economy rebounds, is this going to help businesses grow as well as boost employment?

Yes. Many positions are going unfilled today, with the primary reason being a mismatch of the applicants to the qualifications. Therefore, the more people we train sooner, the faster the unemployed will be able to obtain employment.

What are the challenges that stand in the way of workforce programs getting the traction that’s needed to educate the workforce that’s out there now?

There are three primary obstacles. The first is funding for training is inadequate, and some sources have limitations. The second is that many job seekers do not realize the opportunities that exist in many industry sectors and what training is needed to achieve employment. And lastly, too many adults have an inadequate education to succeed in formal training, and basic education for adults in Michigan is very limited in availability.

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