Scholarship program will help fill skilled trades jobs

Darnell Evans wasn't clear on his future. He'd run into some trouble, but cleaned his life up and graduated high school this spring.

Thanks to a new scholarship program offered by the Economic Development Alliance of St. Clair County, the CommunityDarnell Evans is the first recipient of the ASSET scholarship. Foundation of St. Clair County, and donations from the Kusch Family Funds, Evans has a clear path and a strong start to his future in a skilled trade.

The Advanced Skills Scholarship for Employment and Training (ASSET) scholarship will give those who are unemployed or underemployed a chance to get new or better jobs in order to make livable wages through apprentice and certified training scholarship programs.

Evans, the first recipient of the ASSET Scholarship, is 2018 Port Huron High School graduate, a father, and was part of RESA's St. Clair Technical Education Center machine technology program.

Evans was working in the restaurant business after graduating and was unable to continue working utilizing the skills he had learned in high school.

He had originally applied for the Complete Your Degree Award, but was put on a waitlist..During that same phone call, he was told about the ASSET scholarship and eventually was notified that he would be the first recipient of the award.

Evans will be receiving $3,000 to continue his metal machining training through a Registered Apprenticeship program offered at Sombur Tools in the Port Huron Industrial Park.

"This new program is another example of how our community comes together for the benefit of those needing assistance to make their lives and our community better."

-Bruce Seymore, EDA of St. Clair County

He is excited about college and although he is not sure what exactly he will focus on, he is looking forward to studying some engineering, including welding and other classes.

"I am grateful, very grateful," says Evans. "My living circumstances weren't the best, I made some mistakes before, and I probably would have been locked up."

Evans made it through a couple of minor trips to juvenile detention and dealt with some troubles at home, and was still able to graduate.

"I'm kind of excited," he says. "It's a big accomplishment."

Bruce Miller is the plant manager at Sombur Machine & Tool Division of MNP Corporation and hired Evans.

"We have been working with Tom Koehler from the TEC RESA for many years," says Miller. "We went to their job fair in May and met Darnell and a lot of other young people. The skilled trades are hurting real bad for workers. We need more of these programs."

Evans was hired at Sombur before accepting the scholarship, and it just worked out that Sombur and Miller were able to act as the apprentice program for him.

"It's an added bonus," he says. "I get to work, and have $3,000 for college."

This opportunity may not be available to Evans if it weren't for the ASSET fund.

"Dan Casey and Bruce Seymore at the EDA came to us with an idea for a pilot program that would benefit not only the current local workforce that needs more skill but also potential new workforce that needs further training and certification as well," says Community Foundation Vice President Jackie Hanton.

"The ASSET program is loosely modeled after the State of Michigan's ‘Michigan Skilled Trades Training Fund.' We had 12 local companies apply for the MI Skilled Trades Training Fund, and only six received funding. So there was certainly unmet local need."

The demand for skilled trade workers across the county and country is high.

"St. Clair County and the United States are in a severe skilled trades worker shortage," says Seymore, EDA Manager of Business and Community Services.

Seymore says that there is a "perfect storm" situation that led to the demand for skilled trades workers, including the fact that over the last 10-15 years, high school graduates were encouraged to go to four-year colleges instead of considering technical programs and careers.

"During the most recent recession of 2009, many individuals left manufacturing jobs as this industry was negatively impacted by the recession," he says. "Finally, many skilled trades workers are nearing retirement, which is emptying the workforce of these experienced workers."

Seymore also says there was a need to support those who have been working jobs and living paycheck to paycheck when they could be learning valuable technical skills for skilled trades jobs, and that organizations in the area will help fill that need.

"One of the benefits here in St. Clair County is how various organizations and agencies come together for a common issue affecting our citizens," says Seymore.

The EDA will work with partners at RESA, Michigan Works, Michigan Rehabilitation Services, and St. Clair County Community College and others to find candidates and select awardees for the program.
Hanton says that the ASSET fund is the latest program that redefines the traditional business model of scholarships.

"You shouldn't just be paying the high school senior a one-time scholarship for their freshman year and say 'good luck,'" says Hanton. "Our young adults need support to complete their degrees, more than just their freshman year."

After traditional scholarships, the EDA and Community Foundation also organized the Come Home Award Fund, which is a program that pays students on the back-end of their college career after receiving a degree in a STEAM related field, rather than at the front of it, but only if they agreed to move back to work within St. Clair County.

They also designed and implemented the Complete Your Degree, which offers financial support for a variety of life needs to young adults such as providing "last-dollars-in" money to cover 100 percent of tuition, books and related supplies for students at SC4.

"Using our three-pronged approach to college and career success for young adults has probably been one of best and believe it or not boldest moves," says Hanton. "When Randy (Maiers, president and CEO of the Community Foundation) helped lead the Come Home Award creation, it was the first in the nation. You can find other programs in the country similar to our complete your degree program, we're just trying to administer something that fits for our community. The feedback has been immensely positive in all regards."

St. Clair County residents who have graduated from high school or have a GED, and are unemployed or underemployed are eligible for the ASSET scholarship. They must also be sponsored by an employer, able to work, have transportation and be preparing to enroll in a certification/apprenticeship training program.

The EDA says sponsors are encouraged to employ the individual during training, provide job shadowing or offer an internship with strong consideration for hiring after completion of the training.

"The word 'community' does mean something here in St. Clair County," says Seymore. "And this new program is another example of how our community comes together for the benefit of those needing assistance to make their lives and our community better."

"Stuff is working out nice," says Evans. "It feels good."

For more information, visit the Community Foundation of St. Clair County and the Economic Development Alliance of St. Clair County.

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