A New Workforce State Of Mind

More and more states are launching major workforce development initiatives to grow their talent.

Like Virginia and Michigan, more and more U.S. states these days are turbocharging their workforce development initiatives, partnering with both educational systems and employers to ensure there are enough skilled workers to keep their economies growing.

Build Virginia

Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam launched Build Virginia last June to connect workers throughout the state with training and employment opportunities in the skilled trades. “We have the opportunity to get high school and community college curricula aligned with the skills needed for the 21st century jobs in shipbuilding, manufacturing, and construction,” notes Chief Workforce Development Advisor Megan Healy.

The Build Virginia Website (https://www.build.virginia.gov/) will serve as a comprehensive hub for individuals to learn about the careers and connect with employers seeking talent, Healy says. The site currently posts “Get the Job,” with links to jobs available within specific fields, and “Get the Skills,” with links to educational and other kinds of training programs throughout the state. Soon, an advanced site will include a portal for trade groups and other entities, bringing together information about industry-recognized training programs, registered apprenticeships, career ladders, and other relevant workforce development resources.

“We’re hoping to get the help of industry partners that also will provide the needed equipment for workers to learn the required skills,” Healy says. Employers wanting to participate should reach out to their local high schools to learn how they can sponsor programs and help develop the curriculum to teach the necessary skills, she suggests. “Companies can make sure the right supplies are in the classroom, including simulators demonstrating how to use heavy equipment, and that employees can teach in the class at times and also be mentors to the students,” she says.

Healy, along with the Build Virginia Advisory Group of business leaders and trade group representatives, will be holding several regional meetings around the state to further the initiative, inviting educators from the local K-12 districts and community colleges, as well as chambers of commerce and local businesses. “We want to connect the two—educators and business leaders—and show them what successful local partnerships look like,” she says.

The advisory group, in conjunction with Healy, also developed recommendations on how to best market the initiative to prospective workers. “While we have people participating in training programs now, we have to build a better awareness about those programs and the jobs available to get more people to participate,” Healy says. “We also have to come up with better ways to tell the story of these great jobs. And we’re working to raise more awareness among women and minorities about these jobs and training programs.”

Marketing materials will target people from different ages, from high school students to 35-year-old adults who want to participate in short-term training within a credentialed grant program, “so they can better provide for their families,” Healy says, noting that “many of the trades pay six-figure salaries and workers don’t have to incur a lot of college debt to be trained for such jobs.”

Michigan’s Marshall Plan for Talent

Through the Marshall Plan for Talent (https://www.michigan.gov/ted/0,5863,7-336-85008—,00.html), Michigan’s Department of Talent and Economic Development is working with educators, employers, and other stakeholders to transform talent development both within the education system and through employer apprenticeships. The initiative initially was proposed by former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who signed the initiative’s $100 million funding plan into law last June. “The Marshall Plan for Talent has helped Michigan set the stage for talent development, attraction, and retainment, as well as emphasize the need for business and education to work together to meet the state’s talent needs,” says Doug Ross, senior advisor for Michigan Prosperity for Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

The point of the Marshall Plan for Talent is to deal with the pressing skills gap in the state, Ross says. “Unless we can meet the gap, we will have lower economic development. The Marshall Plan has been a key part of closing that gap,” he says.

A major focus of the initiative has been the development of consortiums—pulling together local businesses, K-12 districts, and local colleges “to put people on a path to learn the skills needed, so when they do enter the market, they will have something beyond a high school diploma to offer an employer,” Ross says.

Round 1 grants will focus heavily on plans to help students identify career options and providing high schools with the resources to work with community colleges to identify which skills can be taught while still in high school. Of the $15 million in awards, $2.35 million will go to purchasing nearly 100 pieces of state-of-the-art equipment students can use to learn, with hands-on experience.

Another $4.78 million will go toward hiring career navigators who will help students explore career options and pathways in Michigan while providing needed support to school counselors “who are overwhelmed,” Ross says—each serving on average 729 students yearly. Some $256,625 will go toward evolving some districts to a district-wide competency-based education model, while $7.56 million will help develop worldclass curricula for each consortium. Round 2 of the initiative’s funding will be completed in June.

There’s also a growing interest in industry apprenticeships and union-based apprenticeships for businesses to train their own people in the skills needed, Ross says.

“Increasing these business and education partnerships in professional trades opens up increased opportunities and awareness for students to come out of high school and go into these apprenticeships, as well as a way for them to take advantage of tuition-free college with several additional initiatives launched by Gov. Whitmer,” he says. “The classroom training augments the skills learned on the job during the apprenticeship—with the state picking up the bill.”

Currently 45 percent of Michigan adults have a postsecondary certificate, credential, or college degree, but Whitmer has set a goal to increase that to 60 percent by 2030. To help accomplish that goal, the governor introduced MI Opportunity and Michigan Reconnect.

MI Opportunity offers qualified graduating high school seniors a tuition-free path to community college, or two years of tuition assistance at a four-year public or private not-forprofit college/university for students graduating from high school with a 3.0 grade point average (GPA) or higher and a family income below $80,000.

Michigan Reconnect provides adults age 25-plus who have not earned a degree a tuition-free pathway to a certificate or Associate’s degree at any public community college.

“We’re calling on businesses to encourage their employees to take advantage of these opportunities,” Ross says. “In doing so, we increase the earning potential of Michiganders and their quality of life by closing the talent gap Michigan residents and companies face. Further, we encourage businesses to communicate and work with the local high schools and community colleges to ensure curricula are in place to reflect their skill needs.”

Chicago’s Apprenticeship 2020

By Katie Kuehner-Hebert

Apprenticeship programs are gaining in popularity—not just for the skilled trades, but also for professional careers in other industries where a Bachelor’s degree isn’t always necessary.

In Chicago, several companies—including brokerage firm Aon, consulting giant Accenture, and insurance company Zurich—have partnered with area workforce foundations to launch Apprenticeship 2020, a new $3.2 million fund to scale high-quality work-based learning programs in theChicagoland area with the goal of hiring 350 apprentices over two years.

Matthew Bruce, executive director of Chicagoland Workforce Funders Alliance, says the initiative will help build capacity within City Colleges of Chicago by creating an Office of Apprenticeship & Workforce Solutions, so community colleges can respond more substantially to employers that want to create apprenticeship programs.

“While any employer in the area can work with its community college, what’s especially exciting now is that a group of employers led by Aon, Accenture, and Zurich have taken it upon themselves to promote to other employers the benefits of working with community colleges on workforce solutions, and especially apprenticeship,” Bruce says.

The community colleges have several apprenticeship models employers can use to build their own apprenticeship program, which they then can customize to fit their particular workforce needs, he says. “The building trades have a well-established apprenticeship model, but now other industries want to create apprenticeship programs, too,” Bruce says. “These companies may have experience doing internship programs with four-year universities, but now they are creating apprenticeship programs for people in community colleges earning an Associate’s degree.”

Aon, Accenture, and Zurich used to hire people with Bachelor’s degrees for certain entry-level positions, but they often had retention problems for these positions, Bruce says.“When they conducted an analysis of the actual skills needed in these jobs, they realized people didn’t necessarily need to have a Bachelor’s degree,” he explains. “Now they’ve changed the requirements of these positions so they can go to community colleges to find candidates and hire them through an apprenticeship model.”

The workers’ loyalty and commitment is “built in from the beginning,” Bruce says. “Aon is betting its vote of confidence in these individuals will pay dividends in terms of loyalty and longer retention rates,” Bruce says. “Aon pays community college tuition, on top of its apprentice salary. The company also offers tuition reimbursements if employees want to go on and get a Bachelor’s degree, opening additional career opportunities for them.”

Other companies now are working with the City College of Chicago’s new Office of Apprenticeship & Workforce Solutions to craft an apprenticeship program that fits their particular needs, including McDonald’s, Walgreens, JPMorgan Chase, and Rush University Medical Center. About two dozen other companies have committed to joining the Chicago Apprenticeship Network and to creating their apprenticeship solution, as well.