The Paslin Company, a Michigan-based high-tech manufacturer, is on the lookout for new employees, and it certainly isn't alone.
The firm builds automated assembly systems, primarily for the auto industry, and recently helped the automaker Rivian create an assembly line for electric vehicles. Paslin
currently operates four facilities in Macomb County, three in Warren, and one in Shelby Township. It employs staff in a wide range of white-collar and blue-collar jobs, from designers to machinists. And Jodi Kade, a training and development specialist with Paslin, says there's a strong need at the company to fill certain positions in particular.
"You can never find enough controls engineers or robot programmers. Those are in super high demand," she says. "And the same thing for electricians and pipefitters, the common skilled trades. Right now a lot of industries need those types of careers, not just people who build automated assembly systems."
Paslin, like a lot of employers in Macomb County and the country at large, has been grappling with a workforce shortage for the last few years. In an effort to help recruit more workers, the company has launched its own in-house training program, but it's also been collaborating with Macomb County to help recruit local talent through a program called Fueling the Talent Pipeline. The purpose of the program is to build bridges between area businesses and local K-12 students to help them explore different career opportunities.
According to Jennifer Weot, the program's senior outreach specialist, the reception of local businesses to the effort has been overwhelmingly positive.
"I can tell you 99% of them, when I explain what we are doing, they say, "Sign me up!" and "When can we get started?" and "I don't want this to be a one-and-done situation. I want to have as much exposure as I can to the kids, so that they can think of me when they're getting close to graduation."
Macomb County employees involved with Fueling the Talent Pipeline
meet with local businesses to understand the specific challenges they're experiencing. They then partner them with local schools interested in educating or training students about related career fields. The county sees this as a win-win situation that helps put local businesses in touch with potential workers while also helping students focus on possible career pathways.
From there, schools have the opportunity to engage with businesses in a variety of different ways, including career fairs, workplace visits, and even internships.
Paslin is an active supporter of Fueling the Talent Pipeline and related activities like Macomb's annual Manufacturing Day, which takes place in October. The manufacturer currently employs a high-school co-op student from Macomb County, whom they hope will stay with the company after graduation. And Kade believes it's important to reach out to local students to pique their interest in employers like Paslin.
"Connecting with them, coming in and educating them, and bringing them in for tours of our organization has really helped them get hands-on experience in the industry, so they can see that careers in manufacturing aren't what they used to be," she says. "They're highly technical careers and you can support your family doing them."
A nutwelder at a Paslin factory. (Photo supplied by Paslin)Building the Talent Pipeline
Fueling the Talent Pipeline originally got started in 2018, originally as an effort to help local manufacturers find young workers who were adequately prepared to enter their industries.
"Manufacturing businesses actually approached the county, and said, 'Look, our workforce is retiring, and we have nobody knocking on our door to take care of those positions. We need to do something," says Weot.
During its initial run, the program was attracting a lot of interest from local manufacturers. But the arrival of the pandemic created issues with regards to students meeting employers face-to-face. Because of this, Fueling the Talent Pipeline was suspended for several years until these COVID-related concerns diminished.
The program started back up again last June under the supervision of Weot, who previously worked for many years in Baker College's admissions department offering guidance to students about career opportunities. From her perspective, the challenges of the pandemic have impacted not just manufacturing, but every industry in the county, driving home just how critical it is to build connections between local students and employers. That said, she stresses that the program, which is just now really getting on its feet, will take time to bear results.
"This is not going to be something where you see results overnight," says Weot. "You may have some high school seniors, but most of them are going to be 9th, 10th, or 11th grade. You're showing them what's out there, so when they do graduate students know there's something right in their own backyards."
Romeo High School students participate in a career-related field trip. (Photo supplied by Romeo High School)
Supporting 'Next Generation Learning'
While Fueling the Talent Pipeline engages with all of Macomb County's 21 school districts, the program is most active with two districts in particular, Romeo and Centerline. Both are what's known as Ford Next Generation Learning (NGL) districts. Ford NGL
is a national initiative that promotes increased collaboration between schools and businesses and supports transforming public high schools into career-themed academies.
Romeo High School
has embraced the initiative's career academy framework. Although everything the school teaches aligns with the Michigan Merit curriculum, which every public high school in the state teaches, the learning experience there is also structured to help develop specific career skills.
The school campus is divided into four different parts, a ninth-grade academy and three other college and career academies that focus on Health, Human and PublicA career event at Romeo High School. (Photo supplied by Romeo High School)
Service; Business, Entrepreneurship and Innovation; and Design, Engineering and Manufacturing.
Each of these academies has its own principal, counselor, and support staff. According to Rich Boggio, an Academy Coach with the school system, the ninth grade academy is designed to help students determine the rest of their high school experience.
"Along with the normal curriculum in 9th grade, there's another class called the freshman seminar class, where they do a whole lot of career exploration. And then at the end of that in February every year, our ninth graders choose an academy and a pathway for their 10th ,11th, and 12th grade here at Romeo High School."
While these subsequent academies are tailored toward specific specialities, students are also able to take different elective courses, including Advanced Placement classes. Real-world college and career experiences are an important part of the curriculum and include classroom visits, college and career pathway-related field trips, job shadows, and even internships.
Under the Ford NGL framework, Macomb County Planning and Economic Development serves as a community convening organization for the school districts of Romeo and Centerline (which has its own similar career-focused curriculum). In this capacity, the county is very focused on building bridges between the two Ford NGL school districts and area businesses. And as he works to organize career-oriented events for students at Romeo High School, Boggio has found the county's Fueling the Talent Pipeline to be a particularly helpful resource.
"If we need a specific event business community member that I don't have contact with already, I can reach out to Macomb County with their whole stable of thousands of businesses that they have connections with to see if they can make an introduction," he says. "Then I can kind of take it from there to see if I can coordinate some sort of experience."
This month Macomb County held two career job shadow days that enabled a total of 45 Romeo High School Students to get an opportunity to see what it's like working in various county government positions. Weot believes that events were a big hit with the students, and hopes to repeat it again soon.
As for the larger work of Fueling the Talent Pipeline, she's happy with what the program has achieved so far and optimistic about its future.
"It's a great success," she And I think as we continue getting the word out that more businesses will get involved and more schools will know they have another resource to help them get the exposure that they need."
This series, made possible with the support of Macomb County, captures the stories of how residents and visitors live, work, and play in the region.