James Mitchell| Crain’s Custom Media

A variety of government-funded jobs training programs have laid the foundation to help a state desperate to close the “skills gap” between available positions and qualified workers. And community colleges are on the front lines.

Gov. Rick Snyder has made a priority of educating skilled-trades workers; southeast Michigan is on the verge of a construction boom unseen for many decades; and a resurging economy has generated increased funding for programs that struggled to survive during the recession.

“These programs are in better shape and have more potential for being supported than at any time in recent memory,” said Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association. “That said, there are limited and finite resources.”

Millions of dollars have been funneled through community colleges to provide training for students and workers, with curriculums generally outlined by employers desperate to bridge the gap between available positions and qualified workers.

Several programs – including the Michigan New Jobs Training Program and the Skilled Trades Training Fund – are in line for increased funding: Snyder asked to double the current $10 million allotment for STTF, and lawmakers in Lansing are considering a three-bill package (SB 69-71) to remove a $50 million cap on funding.

“That will always be the push-and-pull,” Hansen said: “The need for training and the available funding.”

MCCA vice president Adriana Phelan said that a communication gap remains between employer expectations and what educators are providing with the funds.

“What we’re looking at now is the need to calibrate programs and make sure the offerings are really meeting the current demand,” Phelan said. “People come to community colleges to get jobs, and the training must be directly related to current demand.”

Phelan said that the MNJT program is a prime example of programming that works, with instruction plans determined ahead of time by participating employers.

“The beauty of the program is that it completely closes the skills gap,” Phelan said. “The employer works directly with the college to determine what training is immediately needed.”

Also, she said, community colleges typically use current practitioners as faculty, professionals who make daily use of new technologies in the workplace.

“There’s a terrific value when you have working engineers teaching,” Phelan said. “They’re working with it every day and bring that knowledge to the classroom.”

Hansen said that educators and employers are confident that, for now, the funding will continue, and hopes that communications between partnering institutions follows suit.

“What we hear from employers is frustration on their part that they’re not finding good people with the right skills,” Hansen said. “The colleges are pleading with employers to tell them what they want and need.”

Those who have found the most success, he said, are the ones who have picked up the phone, called a community college president and made specific requests.

“College administrators tell me all the time that’s what they want the companies to do,” Hansen said. “High school is no longer an entry-level credential, and most people will need to pursue some post-secondary education options.”

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