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Mich. Colleges Team Up to Address Region’s Talent Gap

By Corey Murray

The need for workers with specialized skills has never been greater. Now, a new Michigan initiative is bringing together community colleges from across the state to help close the region’s worsening talent gap with the help of a valuable, often uninformed, asset: high school students.

Community colleges have long prided themselves on their ability to nimbly adjust to economic needs. But what good are job training programs if students don’t know they exist?

That’s the thinking behind Michigan’s new Career Jump Start program. Created in response to Gov. Rick Snyder’s statewide Economic and Education Summits [PDF], the initiative, which includes the participation of 10 community colleges across the state, aims to better inform high school students about in-demand job training programs available at their local community colleges.

At issue: Community colleges do a good job working with employers to develop job training programs that mirror the needs of their local economies, but educators and others at the summit said those opportunities are not always filtered down to area high schools for students to consider when they’re weighing academic and career options.

“It was pretty clear that high school students weren’t aware of all the high demand job opportunities and how to get connected with training programs to help them,” Amy Cell, senior vice president of talent enhancement for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), told regional news service MLive. “We came up with the idea for a dedicated resource with each community college, someone waking up every morning saying, ‘What are the high need jobs in our region and how do I connect to the high school students and their parents?'”

The solution: As part of the initiative, each of the 10 participating community colleges will feature a special career liaison who will work throughout a dedicated “prosperity region” within the state to get students, parents, educators and potential employers talking about in-demand job training programs (associate degree and professional credentials) available through local community colleges.

Liaisons will use job data and other tools to examine specific training needs in their regions and identify what types of workers are required to fill open jobs in the region.

Isaiah Oliver, who serves as career liaison for Mott Community College, told MLive reporter Sarah Schuch that he planned to work with colleagues at other community colleges and with employers, local chambers of commerce and stakeholders across the region to identify specific opportunities across a seven-county region.

We’re all really doing career pathway work for adults.

“We’re all really doing career pathway work for adults,” Oliver said. “We want to make sure we are putting students in the pipeline early or exposing those opportunities.”

Gov. Snyder explained it this way in a press release: “Today, too few workers have the skills needed to meet the demands of employers in the new economy. Through the Career Jump Start program, we will encourage students to consider training opportunities that will provide them with critical work skills for those high-demand careers.”

How it’s funded: MEDC gave each of the 10 colleges $50,000 to fund the hiring of a career liaison. Participants hope that a positive experience will encourage additional funding to sustain the Jump Start beyond its initial one-year run.

“Our hope is to show value to the business and educational communities about this concept so they will fund it going forward,” Cell told MLive. For Oliver, it’s all about “providing young people with options and exposing them to different things.”

What steps is your college taking to connect students with careers?

Corey Murray

is editor of the 21st-Century Center.

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