By Roger Jankowski

Keenly aware of the alarming lack of qualified workers available to fill critical STEM-related jobs, businesses in southeastern Michigan are stepping up in numerous, innovative ways to embrace a variety of training and educational initiatives.

Working in partnership with Automation Alley, HP Enterprise Services of Pontiac and Lakeside Software of Bloomfield Hills and Ann Arbor were founding members in the Alley’s Technical Talent Development Program (TTDP).

Launched in 2012, TTDP began with a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration to create jobs and train workers within Southeast Michigan’s tech industry.

“Our Technical Talent Development Program is addressing a critical need in Southeast Michigan to fill the IT skills gap,” says Alysia Green, Automation Alley director of talent development.

TTDP provides funding to local employers for high-level IT training of both potential and current employees. The instruction is administered by local training providers, including corporate education companies, workforce development organizations and educational institutions.

To date, more than 500 people have received high-level IT skills training, such as certified ethical hacking and Microsoft solutions developer.

The program has grown steadily to include 13 participating companies in the second year. And this year, 24 local companies with immediate IT training needs are now participating.

Says Green, “We’ll train as many as 1,000 people” before programs end.

At PTI Engineered Plastics in Sterling Heights, they’ve taken an even more immediate, hands-on approach. They’ve started their own training academy in advanced manufacturing for high school students: The PTI Technical Academy.

According to Mark Rathbone, CEO of PTI, there’s a shortage of people with these skills sets. “When I took my apprenticeship in the late ’60s there were 40 to 60 students in a class. Today, I don’t think there are 60 kids in a program anywhere in Macomb.”

Rathbone and his team decided to do something about that.

Over the summer, they recruited potential students from six high schools in Macomb County. So far 22 students applied for enrollment by filling out applications and attending a personal interview with PTI’s management team. Ultimately 15 students were selected to participate.

“We were looking for students who were genuinely interested in a trade career,” says Scott Kraemer, a senior design engineer and project manager, who also oversees the project. “Our program is a commitment – both for us and for the students who attend.”

Classes are held throughout the school year in three 10-week semesters. The group meets on Saturday mornings from 8-11 a.m. The classes combine components of both tooling and manufacturing and give students hands-on opportunities to work at the presses, work on design and work at computers in a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility.

“It will give students the opportunity to see the process all the way through,” says Kraemer. “By the time they’re through, they’ll be able to get an entry level job anywhere.”

At Proper Group International, an industrial plastics supplier in Warren, they also run their own training program – “Proper U” – in addition to participating in a training program known as Michigan Advanced Technician Training (MAT²).

Benchmarked on the German Dual Education System, MAT² is an educational model developed in conjunction with global technology leaders. It combines theory, practice and work to help train a globally competitive workforce. It’s also a program that’s being heralded by Gov. Rick Snyder.

“This public-private collaboration meets critical employer needs and provides our students with a great way to earn an associate’s degree at no cost, get paid, gain critical work skills, and end up with guaranteed employment in an in-demand field,” says Snyder

MAT² is offered through a partnership of participating employers like Proper Group International, as well as community colleges, and the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC). It combines classroom instruction with paid work experience in a three-year, no-cost program in the field of mechatronics, a combination of mechanical engineering, electronics, computer technology and information technology.

“In today’s manufacturing environment, we need to look at various ways to attract, develop and retain today’s workforce.” said Tom Ruczynski, senior vice president, Proper Group International.

That’s why they were eager to partner with the MEDC on MAT².

“Coupled with our own Proper ‘U’ Training Program, we’re having a huge impact on developing our own workforce,” Ruczynski says.

Students enrolled in MAT² will earn an associate’s degree at one of five southeast Michigan community colleges – Henry Ford, Macomb, Mott, Oakland or Wayne – while they earn a paycheck and gain on-the-job experience with a participating company. Tuition is paid by the employer and in exchange, the student commits to remaining on the job for at least two years after successful completion of the program.

From partnering with private organizations to engaging with government programs and, at times, even taking the bull by the horns and developing resources on their own, businesses are taking the initiative in their quest to fill the qualified worker shortage in Michigan.

“This is still the manufacturing footprint in the United States,” says Rathbone.” “This is what it’s all about.”

 Roger Jankowski is the President and Chief Creative Officer of JankowskiCo, a highly regarded, marketing and advertising agency which, for 17 successful years, has operated on the premise that big problems are best solved by big ideas from a small group of big thinkers.  In addition to his marketing communications work, Jankowski is also a well known and prolific business writer who regularly contributes astute content and news stories on a variety of subjects – from art to education, energy to employment, science, technology and healthcare matters



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