By ADAM DeLAY
Capital News Service
LANSING – When Ford Motor Co. closed its daycare centers in June of last year, Lori Wingert was out of a job after four years as a preschool teacher.
“I didn’t know how to feel. I thought, who is going to hire me? Where am I going to go?” she said.
After attending a Michigan Works! seminar and meeting with a case worker, the Clinton Township resident enrolled in the No Worker Left Behind (NWLB) program and took business and accounting classes at Macomb Community College. After receiving an associate’s degree in accounting in December, she applied for a job at the college, and a month later began as a business coordinator for the Macomb Center for Performing Arts.
“I got good insight and felt I had a better chance at finding employment,” she said. “When I lost my job, I was 49. The thought of going back to school was daunting but the people and the seminars were very helpful.”
Gov. Jennifer Granholm is touting such stories as a sign the program is successful.
A study by the Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth shows that almost three quarters of the nearly 35,000 NWLB participants who completed training either obtained or kept jobs.
The program offers up to $10,000 for workers to take courses and train for new jobs.
Wingert said that she couldn’t have gone back to school without that financial help.
“My books and my classes were taken care of. It was a blessing,” she said. “I wouldn’t have been able to afford to do it.”
Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association, said training is crucial to finding employment.
“It’s no secret that jobs are hard to find, but with the training our community colleges provide and our association with Michigan Works! these people are better equipped to find jobs,” he said.
“We have record enrollments at all of our community colleges, and overall I’d say it’s been a success and we’ve been very supportive of it,” he said.
One problem community colleges face, however, is waiting lists for high-demand programs. Hansen said capacity is a challenge and institutions are trying new methods to move more students through training faster.
“If you’re unemployed and you’ve got a car payment, kids, a waiting list just won’t cut it,” he said. “We’re trying more online courses and trying to accelerate programs in order to get students through the training quicker.”
Lon Huffman, public relations and marketing director for Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, said some students have to wait to take the college’s new nursing aide program.
The program qualifies students for work in entry-level nursing jobs.
“We began offering the training, and the classes filled up,” he said.
“We can’t offer the classes fast enough. I think everyone would like to see us offer more sections.”
Huffman said that most students, however, are able to take the class without having to wait.
“Some may have to wait a few weeks after going through Michigan Works! and filling out their paper work, but most are able to take the class immediately,” he said.
Some experts, however, are critical of NWLB.
For example, Paul Kersey, director of labor policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, said the department’s study doesn’t prove workers who retrain through such programs have a better chance at finding jobs.
“We can’t say if the program has led to increased employment because we don’t know if people who go through the training have better chances of getting employment than those who don’t. We having nothing to compare it to,” he said.
The Mackinac Center is a free-market-oriented think tank.
Kersey said the state is focusing on retraining workers instead of attracting new businesses, even though many employers offer their own training.
“While I’m glad community colleges feel they’re benefiting, this is about what’s best for workers in the state. Employers often provide their own training or subsidize college tuition for workers,” he said.
“We’re still not creating a business climate. You can train the employees of the future all day, but if you don’t have the employers of tomorrow, then that training won’t be very useful.”
Wingert said her job training at Macomb Community College wasn’t the only important thing she received. The advice she got on landing a job also proved valuable.
“When I did the interview, I felt I was prepared because of the tips my professors gave me on my resume and on interviewing. I really feel that’s how I got the job,” she said.
She said she plans on eventually going back to school for a bachelor’s degree in accounting.
“I wanted to take some time to learn the field and start working, but I definitely plan on going back,” she said.
© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.