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James A. Mitchell

A program that provides opportunities for the structurally unemployed was, at first, met with a fair amount of skepticism from some employers. Those who found success with Community Ventures, however, discovered that the relatively new program included a long-established foundation that eliminated any guesswork.

“Most companies aren’t going to hire people just because there’s an incentive,” said Cheryl Sanford, who coordinated the program’s Highland Park rollout on behalf of the Southeast Michigan Community Alliance (SEMCA). “Our employers have been pleasantly surprised at the quality of workers.”

More than 2,000 employees have been placed – with a nearly 70 percent cumulative retention rate – since Community Ventures was launched by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder in 2012. The program targets four communities: Detroit – including Highland Park and Hamtramck – Flint, Saginaw and Pontiac.

It was designed to improve prospects for those who struggled with education or skill barriers, and rolled out with a $10 million annual allotment distributed through the Michigan Economic Development Corp. that provided participating companies with $5,000 per new hire.

Michigan Works! Agencies (MWAs) are key partners in identifying workers and employers and connecting them to one another. Participating MWAs include Southeast Michigan Community Alliance (SEMCA), Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation (DESC), Oakland County Michigan Works!, and Genesee-Shiawassee Michigan Works.

“We see more and more employers willing to give people a second chance,” said Pamela Moore, CEO of DESC, which coordinated the program’s implementation in Detroit.

Moore said that DESC and the other MWAs identify and prepare workers, and Community Ventures works with employers to specify workforce needs. The Detroit program, she said, has shown a retention rate of 88 percent for its nearly 1,000 placements.

Success wasn’t too surprising. The strategy was consistent with MWAs’ existing “One-Stop” employment service, which had formed relationships with companies to best determine their needs.

“It’s demand-driven by local employers,” said Michigan Works! Association CEO Luann Dunsford. “It’s the way the system was set up and the way it operates. Community Ventures complements that approach, and we can move the talent pipeline to them.”

Locally the program made use of existing resources such as the Oakland County MWAs “JobLink” in Pontiac, which had established a path for workers to get a foot in the door.

“There are weekly orientations where people are made aware of the different positions,” said John Almstadt of Oakland County Michigan Works! “They come to the facility with a resume in hand for a career coach to review.”

Some issues could be handled by the MWA, such as screening and resume preparation. Other employment barriers required more of a local team effort.

“We want to do everything we can to ensure that eligible workers will have opportunities,” said Craig Coney, president of the Genesee-Shiawassee MWA. When a company’s expansion resulted in numerous hires that qualified but were unable to get to work, the agency worked with local mass transportation officials who added routes and shifts. The service was offered free to workers for 90 days, after which a pass was offered for a nominal fee.

“That company would have been without workers if this had not evolved,” Coney said.

Continued success for Community Ventures depends, in part, on the annual state budget’s bottom line. SEMCA CEO Gregory Pitoniak said it was too early to tell – “They’re probably fly-specking every line item” he said of the legislature – but that the successful relationships formed between coordinating agencies and hiring managers should continue in a rebuilding economy.

“We might be able to upscale and serve more employers,” Pitoniak said. “Our screening is in touch with what they’re looking for. Clearly the partnership has worked well.”



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