Community colleges push job training initiatives

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Capital News Service
LANSING – Community colleges are finally taking advantage of the Michigan New Jobs Training Program to get free job training for their students and keep businesses in state.
For example, Grand Rapids Community College recently formed a partnership with Energetx Composites of Holland, a composite manufacturing company. The partnership is the first since legislation that created the program was signed in December 2008.
“It’s an economic development and workforce development tool,” said Mike Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association. “They have to be new jobs, so it helps attract new jobs and keep jobs in Michigan.”
Under such agreements, companies pledge to hire a specified number of employees who require training. Community colleges borrow money or use reserve funds to pay to train students for the company.
Once those students become employed, their income taxes are diverted to the college to reimburse training costs instead of being paid to the state.
“The state gets 100 newly trained workers, the company gets free training and the college gets a new partnership,” Hansen said.
For a business to be eligible, it must commit to create full-time jobs in a new, existing or expanding company. The jobs must pay at least $12.95 per hour and cannot replace existing jobs in the company.
The legislation was modeled after a similar law in Iowa. The difference is that Michigan allows colleges to borrow from their own reserves or take out loans instead of issuing bonds to finance training.
In the Energetx deal, however, the company is fronting the costs of the training, Hansen said. The association said that approach minimizes the college’s financial and makes the program more attractive to the company.
After the students are employed, the college will receive their payroll tax withholdings and reimburses Energetx for the training expenses.
It’s projected that the company will be fully reimbursed within four years.
The partnership allows Grand Rapids Community College to provide a three-year training program at a maximum cost of $547,000 for up to 280 new workers.
Heather Harback, manager of corporate and continuing education at Jackson Community College, said her college is pursuing similar agreements with a variety of potential partners in industries ranging from advanced manufacturing to research and development.
Harback said the partnerships will help keep jobs in Michigan, but also draw employers from other parts of the country.
“Some companies we’re working with are new to the state,” Harback said.
Hansen also said he’s heard of employer interest from other countries.
“We’re in discussions with a college that has a company that may be moving operations from Canada to Michigan, partly due to the incentives,” Hansen said.
Hansen said that six to 10 community colleges are looking at partnerships with companies in a wide range of industries.
“Energetx is a materials composite company,” Hansen said. “There are others in manufacturing, insurance. It runs a pretty full gamut.”
Hansen said the spotlight is on community colleges because they are experiencing record enrollments and can change with the economy.
Harback said that they can anticipate local needs and respond with new programs.
For example, she said Jackson Community College has recently launched courses in renewable energy and sustainability.
Matt Miller, executive director of college advancement at Mid Michigan Community College in Harrison, said his college isn’t currently working on forming any partnerships, but thinks it’s a great program to provide creative economic development.
“We’re finding with the current job market that not a whole lot of employers are looking to add new jobs,” Miller said.
However, he said the college remains open to the program and would take part if approached by an employer.
Ellen Jones, director of public affairs at Lansing Community College, said the college just launched a new Get a Skill, Get a Job program, in which graduates are reimbursed for tuition if they cannot find a job within one year. The program isn’t part of the Michigan New Jobs Training Program but also helps guarantee graduates employment.
It provides six-week, intensive training for several high-demand careers including pharmacy technician associates, customer service specialists and quality inspector associates.
“We work with employers all the time to help them meet workforce needs,” Jones said.
The programs cost $2,150 to $2,500. Jones said students must pay half up front. If they can’t find a job, the college refunds their money.
“A lot of people need work now,” Jones said. “They can’t wait two years.”
Jones said the program was created to fill a gap in the workforce.
“The jobs being created in Michigan now, so many of them require more than a high school education, but less than a four-year degree,” Jones said. “A lot of people may apply that have never taken a college class.”
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.
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