Original story written by Annalise Frank on CrainsDetroit.com, published October 30, 2017.
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Consumers Energy Co. and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation are training go-betweens to give companies and job providers information needed to narrow the state’s talent gap.

The Jackson-based energy group is funding the first six-month training session for CEOs, executives and other leaders of chambers of commerce and economic development-focused organizations throughout the state, including Michigan Works and Grand Rapids-based The Right Place, said Sharon Miller, who leads the Michigan Talent Architecture Coalition for Consumers.

Those who graduate from the Michigan Talent Pipeline Management Academy training program will then go back to their regions and work with between six and more than a dozen businesses at a time to assess their needs and workshop talent gap solutions, Miller said.

The end goal is creating a system able to identify the number of qualified job candidates these companies will need in the coming years and deliver on those needs, said Jeremy Hendges, chief deputy director for Michigan’s Department of Talent and Economic Development. The state has helped promote the academy and encouraged participation, he said, but is not contributing funding.

Graduates of the talent pipeline program will collect data from companies on their job needs, brainstorm strategies and connect them with organizations that can help, namely universities, community colleges and job training programs. Focus industries will include skilled trades and manufacturing, information technology, computer science and health care.

“It’s really an approach for students in the academy to go back to their community and help employers engage more effectively with educators,” Miller said. “Right now employers are struggling with how they communicate their demand to educators. The graduates of the academy are going to become that bridge.”

Consumers Energy kicked off the first training session Wednesday night at Grand Valley State University and held the first classes for the 20 participants Thursday.

The energy group brought the idea to the state after it saw success using the model internally, starting in 2015 — 90 percent of workers it hired in through the pipeline management model were still employed with Consumers Energy a year later, as opposed to the previous 50 percent.

“As we looked to solve our (skills gap) problem … we identified that we might be able to do something that supports the entire state,” said Dan Malone, senior vice president for engineering for Consumers Energy.

The academy came to Michigan as a talent-shortage solution under the Michigan Talent Architecture Coalition, a group of more than 100 representatives from government entities, nonprofits, education institutions and economic development organizations brought together by Consumers Energy.

Michigan is the first state to use the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s talent pipeline academy, said Jason Tyszko, executive director of the organization’s center for education and workforce. It provides the curriculum and technical assistance, he said.

In webinars and in-person sessions, the students study solutions to chronic skills gaps, how to collect data on job needs and how to measure success. They apply supply chain management strategies to tackle the issue, tracking data and outcomes using web tools provided by the chamber foundation.

Leaders want to run the talent pipeline academy once or twice a year, and run at least three total, she said. They expect to have 60 people trained in within the next 18 months or so.

The Consumers Energy Foundation provided a $50,000 grant to jump-start the statewide project and fund the first six-month course. Participants pay $499. They have yet to announce further funding, Miller said.

Increasing skilled trades and tech training has been a major priority of Rick Snyder’s administration and of Michigan businesses in recent years, as they look to attract interest from big companies like Amazon.com Inc. and grow the workforce to accommodate local businesses’ needs.

Talent is likely to factor heavily into Amazon’s decision on where it will build its second headquarters; the company’s biggest business impediment is laborCrain’s reported. Detroit and Grand Rapids submitted their bids Oct. 19, but the Michigan Talent Pipeline Management Academy wasn’t included in pitches, Miller said. It was “too early” in the process, she said.

But the program is “another thing in our bag here” that helps address the talent gap issue for Amazon, Hendges said. “Anything we can do to help tell that talent story helps us out.”

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