Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) was in the vanguard of the Michigan New Jobs Training Program, which enables community colleges to contract with local businesses to provide specialized training for new employees. The college was the first of the state’s 28 two-year institutions to enter such an agreement, and it has since grown its list of employer partners to 11, mostly in the manufacturing industry. The local program has generated nearly 5,000 new jobs and trained nearly 2,000 workers to fill those openings, says Julie Parks, director of workforce training at GRCC.
The success at the western Michigan college has made senior program manager Mary Hofstra a recognized expert on New Jobs Training. “Now we send her around to all the Michigan community colleges that do this program,” Parks says.
Hofstra, Parks and other program leaders are able to share with their colleagues a wide range of instructive experiences, from figuring out how to train the trainers in new technologies to learning what expense-related data the school needs to track for the state’s treasury department.
“We worried a lot at the beginning about setting up the system,” Parks says, adding that the program’s developers wanted to avoid any missteps that would reflect badly on the college. “We believe in the theory that the setup leads to the success or failure of the project.”
Relationships with the local manufacturing community
The Michigan New Jobs Training program was created at the peak of the recession, in 2008, but Parks says that when GRCC began setting up workforce training on its campus, “the bounce-back was just starting to happen.” A number of new companies had arrived in western Michigan, while other existing companies were looking to expand their workforce. When GRCC leaders explained the new program to the region’s economic developers, they were eager to get involved.
“We’ve had a longtime relationship with the economic development community, and we both saw this as a tool that could help Michigan grow,” Parks says.
Parks says the training program faculty, drawn primarily from the college’s manufacturing department, with a few outside contractors brought in for special expertise, also completely embraced the program.
The first local employers to come aboard were Haworth, a maker of officer furniture; and Autocam Corporation, which manufactures automotive products. Both companies already had longtime relationships with GRCC, so faculty members were familiar with the knowledge and skills their jobs required. But when two battery manufacturers, Johnson Controls and LG Chem, signed on to the program, the faculty job trainers encountered a learning curve. GRCC signed a nondisclosure agreement with both companies so that participating faculty members could get an inside look at the battery-making process. When Johnson Controls and LG Chem brought some overseas employees to their Grand Rapids facilities for training, GRCC manufacturing instructors were allowed to shadow them.
Another model for successful training
Michigan modeled its program after a similar one in Iowa, and Parks says GRCC administrators made several trips to the Hawkeye state during the early planning stages. The group especially wanted to learn about Iowa’s system for selecting trainees and tracking their progress.
The GRCC training is funded through a revenue bond that participating businesses sign in exchange for having their payroll taxes refunded. To make the arrangement work smoothly, the college has had to work closely with the state’s treasury department to ensure that it meets all of the agency’s reporting requirements.
“The treasury department was very accommodating,” Parks says. “This was brand new for them, so we worked to create it together.”