James Mitchell| Crain’s Custom Media

Government investment in training, education and equipment is seen as crucial in an era of workforce managers and educators struggling to keep current with technology while filling skilled trade positions that require an increasing level of expertise.

“We have a generation of people who’ve grown up reading that it’s all manual labor, that manufacturing doesn’t need a skill set and you’d learn on the job,” said Tom Crampton, executive dean of regional technology initiatives at Mott Community College. “Most people don’t understand the sophistication of these jobs, let alone where they’re headed.”

Funding to keep training programs current include $50 million in grants announced in February by Gov. Rick Snyder. The Community College Skilled Trades Equipment Program, administered through the Michigan Economic Development Corp., provides 18 colleges with the funds to purchase machinery, tools and equipment needed for coursework in an ever-expanding definition of “skilled trades.”

Mott was among five Workforce Intelligence Network partner institutions along with Henry Ford, Macomb, Oakland and Washtenaw community colleges, which combined were awarded nearly 40 percent — $19.4 million — of the grant funds. The diversity of needed equipment and qualifying trades expands in direct proportion to the use of technology in the workforce, and programs at Mott cut across several fields.

“We were happy that MEDC’s definition of “skilled trades” was broadened to include training programs for occupations more commonly known as ‘middle skill’ jobs,” said Michelle Glenn, career and technical education manager at Mott for the project.

A majority of current job openings in Mott’s district are in either health care – to include nursing, dental assistance and respiratory therapy – along with traditional skilled trades that require up-to-date computer and technology knowledge, whether machining, computer-aided drafting and design or welding. More than 100,000 manufacturing positions have been created in Michigan in recent years, most with a need for post-high school education along with practical experience.

“Public funding is critical to our institution,” Glenn said. State grants matched by the college – totaling more than $4 million for the coming year – join investment by private businesses in Genesee County of software and equipment to keep course offerings current.

State investment through local colleges, Crampton said, can play a major role in keeping Michigan competitive.

“Part of what’s driven the investment in equipment is for American companies to become more productive,” Crampton said. “We’re beginning to take advantage of technological tools that the workforce hadn’t been using.”

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