By JACK FALINSKI
Capital News Service
As officials continue grappling with what some call the “Great Resignation,” Ryan Hundt doesn’t see it as a quitting catastrophe among workers.
He sees it as an opportunity.
“I think it’s giving individuals a really unique opportunity at this juncture to help reassess what they would like to do for their long-term employment prospects,” said Hundt, the CEO of the Michigan Works! Association. “When people talk about the ‘Great Resignation,’ I’ve heard other people talk about it as the ‘Great Reshuffling’ or the ‘Great Pivot,’ where individuals now have an opportunity.”
Michigan Works! is a workforce development association with 16 agencies across the state to advocate, educate and assist in employment opportunities.
While Hundt said he views this time as a chance for all residents to evaluate their employment status, he said it’s also important to invest in some of the strongest — and sometimes most overlooked — work candidates: youth.
Forty-eight percent of workers across the country who were paid the minimum wage in 2020 were under 25, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Hundt said that before the COVID-19 pandemic, the national poverty rate for 18-to-24-year-olds was 13.3%, almost 3 percentage points higher than for all adults. He added that enrollment in higher education dropped by 13.1% in fall 2020 from the previous year.
Ben Damerow said he’s concerned about the enrollment decline.
“We have a large pocket of youth 18-24 who need more opportunities, and we could provide that with additional funding,” said Damerow, a senior director at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo.
To address that situation, Hundt said a top priority for Michigan Works! is to advocate spending $80 million of federal funds allocated by the state on employment resources for youth.
“They’re the next generation of workers right now, and if we can get them into accessible and impactful work experiences in the near term, then we have a high likelihood of retaining them in the workforce,” he said.
During the Great Recession in 2009, Damerow said the state received $74 million for youth programs. The $80 million Michigan Works! seeks this year, he said, would come from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Hundt said the additional funding would go toward programs like mentoring, career coaching and removing obstacles that prevent young people from working, such as transportation, housing and food access.
Michigan Works! has used federal funds to operate youth projects under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act passed in 2014.
In 2020, the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity launched a summer program called the Young Professionals Initiative which focused on career preparation, placement and awareness for youths.
A year later, the department announced the initiative would run year-round with a $2 million investment disbursed among the 16 Michigan Works! agencies from Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act funds.
The initiative was extended largely because of the pandemic, according to Chelsea Mates, a manager for the department’s Workforce Innovation Team.
When agencies and businesses started to turn virtual, Mates said it was a good opportunity to remain in contact with program participants.
The initiative uses a layered approach, she said. Those who have never been employed before start in workshops and mentorships. Once ready, they’re connected with employers.
“It’s helping the youth understand what’s going to be expected of them, and supporting them,” Mates said. “We’ll have case managers call just as quickly as a parent if a youth is late for showing up for their jobs.
“It’s very holistic in the approach to helping youth enter our workforce. And then, the benefits are going to be hopefully putting them on that career path and also building our talent pool to help our state’s employers,” she said.
In its first two years, Mates said the initiative has served over 1,000 youth and will try to serve 1,000 more this year.
Capital Area Michigan Works! CEO Carrie Rosingana said her team decided to heavily invest in professional development workshops based on what her team saw among youth in Ingham, Eaton and Clinton counties
“We had great outcomes,” Rosingana said. “We had a great network of speakers come in from within the community to motivate the kids and to be able to talk to them about these experiences — what to expect, what they’re looking for in candidates.
“We really used that opportunity to build some of those partnerships to help them then connect back to the youth programs we do all the time,” she said.
In November, Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City partnered with Northwest Michigan Works! to offer students the Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates program, an effort to help young people reach their education and career goals.
The college became the first in Michigan to offer the program. Northwest Michigan Works! also provides it to middle and high schools in Cadillac, Manistee and Charlevoix.
To find a local Michigan Works! service center, go to www.michiganworks.org or call 1-800-285-9675.