Michigan Works success coaches aid workers and employers

Training and coaching from Michigan Works helps keep employees on the job at places like PTM Corp.
Human resources professional John W. Tucker has just one question about the Michigan Works! Business Resource Network: Why aren't more companies taking advantage of the unique program, which helps employees be successful and employers reduce turnover?

"This program is invaluable in its ability to help our employees," says Tucker, the director of human resources for PTM Corporation in Fair Haven. "I don't understand why Michigan Works! is not turning companies away."

Since 2013, the state-funded Michigan Works! has helped the metal stamping company hire more than two dozen workers, PTM Human Resources Director John Tucker (center) and Ann Austin of Michigan Works (left) chat with employees.including assembly operators, laser technicians, welders, fabricators, and quality controllers.

"Michigan Works! is a tremendous business partner," says Tucker, who like many of his human resources colleagues struggles to find enough workers and reduce the high cost of employee turnover.

Michigan Works! Macomb/St. Clair is a leader in coordinating and providing quality, comprehensive workforce development, employment, and training services. Their staff of trained professionals helps people find jobs and companies find competent, committed employees. The Business Resource Network (BRN), one of the agency's newest programs, was so successful in its pilot year that the state legislature renewed funding for 2020. Among the local participating business are Binson's Medical Equipment and Supplies, Axalta and Rassey Industries.

Recognizing that many of today's employees face challenges that prevent them from being reliable and productive, the BRN offers the services of a success coach who helps the working poor meet their personal needs. The coach has the resources to go well beyond what most human resources departments can do to help vulnerable employees, and is a much more personalized approach than a typical phone-in employee assistance program.

Ann Austin of Michigan Works helps coach employees which keeps them in their jobs."The success coach is not a counselor, but a resource expert who can help workers with anything that prevents them from getting and keeping their job," explains Colin Miller, BRN coordinator and manufacturing talent specialist at the Macomb-St. Clair Workforce Development Board, part of the Michigan Works! office in Clinton Township. "They may need their car fixed, a payday loan, or have problems with childcare. Employers don't have time for these kinds of issues, but it does affect their turnover."

The success coach meets confidentially with employees on-site at the participating workplace, at a Michigan Works! office or even at a nearby coffee shop, whatever the worker prefers. It's a judgment-free, practical approach to problem-solving that keeps workers employed.

"We know the community, we know the resources and we understand what these people are dealing with on any given day," says Ann Austin, a success coach who meets with at least 15 workers each week (most on break time or after hours) at various locations.

She's personally vouched for ex-offenders (called "returning citizens" by the agency) with landlords; helped connect substance abusers with recovery support; found sustenance for the food insecure; and helped workers pull together a professional wardrobe and establish a realistic budget. "Sometimes it's just moral support, letting them know that someone cares," Austin says.

Michigan Works! also enables the coaches to provide direct monetary help with things like securing transportation, paying for PTM Human Resources Director John Tucker appreciates having assistance from Michigan Works.car repairs, preventing a utility shutoff and finding childcare – "anything that prevents people from getting and keeping their job," says Miller.

Austin is currently putting together a group of single parents (mostly mothers) who work at Port Huron-based HP Pelzer to support each other with issues like childcare.

"Limited daycare is a huge problem here in St. Clair County," she says. "I had a mom who lost her job because her kids were sick and she couldn't bring them to daycare. I am hoping this group will help them facilitate some solutions themselves, like finding people on other shifts who can cover for them. We want to empower them to not be at the mercy of circumstance."

And it's life's inevitable circumstances – failing brakes, a higher-than-expected heating bill, a sudden death in the family – that can sometimes be enough to knock the working poor right off their feet and into the ranks of the unemployed. The Business Resource Network aims to counteract that by empowering workers to solve – and prevent – their problems so they keep earning a paycheck. It's a win not only for the individuals but their employers who, according to a study by the Workforce Intelligence Network for Southeast Michigan, incur a median $4,500 in turnover costs per worker.

Michigan Works! offers the BRN program to companies as a free pilot. Should they decide to continue with the program, companies are charged an annual fee that begins at $3,744 for two hours of coaching per week -- well below the typical cost to find and retrain a new worker.

PTM Human Resources Director John Tucker (center) and Ann Austin of Michigan Works (right) chat with employees.Plus, says PTM's Tucker, the program fits right into his company's mission statement that calls for a "family-based environment."

"People are people and life happens, and to keep good people you have to provide for them, not only a decent wage and insurance but things of a personal nature. The day and age that we keep our work life and our home life separated is long gone. In human resources, we are limited in our resources to assist, and Michigan Works! has really excelled by helping us expand our resources," he says. "With 300 people, we couldn't possibly find the time to do those things. This program is invaluable in its ability to help your people, and, without a doubt, it helps reduce turnover. When people have the peace of mind that their company cares for them, it can't help but reduce their desire to leave."

Michigan Works! offers a wide range of services to those seeking work and those seeking to employ them. Tailored programs help everyone from young professionals and veterans to senior citizens and ex-offenders find and retain employment. Learn more about the Business Resource Network and other resources by contacting Michigan Works! Macomb/St. Clair at (586) 469-5819 or visiting macomb-stclairworks.org.

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