Michigan Works! Partners with Local Agencies to Keep People Working

We’ve all heard the expression "it takes a village" to raise thriving children, but it’s also perfectly apt for the approach Michigan Works! takes to help people find and keep good jobs and businesses stay fully staffed.

"Michigan Works! is seen as the unemployment agency, but it also has such a great number of programs that can assist companies on a wide range," says Bruce Seymore II, director of business and community services for the Economic Development Alliance (EDA) of St. Clair County, a regional non-profit that has served the Blue Water area for more than 60 years. "Companies know they are out there but many are unaware of the full breadth of services and assistance Michigan Works! offers."

Established in 1987, Michigan Works! is the nation’s first unified workforce development system. As a leader in coordinating and providing comprehensive workforce development, employment and training services, Michigan Works! Macomb/St. Clair helps people find jobs and companies find competent, committed employees. Overall, Michigan Works! serves nearly 4 million customers throughout the state each year – a number that is sure to soar given the effect the coronavirus pandemic is having on the state and world economy.

Dan Casey, CEO of the EDA, has sat on the board of Michigan Works! for the past several years.

"Being on the board, I get to hear all about their different programs, which are quite extensive. There is such a wide variety of programs for a wide variety of demographic groups," he says. "For example, a lot of immigrants don’t realize that there is funding and training for them, and that they can get a translator to go on a job interview."

Casey also pointed to a program that helps people displaced from the defense industry prepare for future employment, such as when Port Huron-based military supplier GMA Cover shut down in 2013 when the U.S. started pulling out of Afghanistan.

Michigan Works! also partners with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation when it pitches companies that are considering moving to the state or expanding their operations here.

"The MEDC puts together a package of incentives and that includes an explanation of our programs and the number of staff hours we can spend helping them hire workers and training their staff," says Colin Miller, manufacturing talent specialist at the Macomb-St. Clair Workforce Development Board, part of the Michigan Works! office in Clinton Township. “We’ll say, 'You hire this many people and we can put this much money in the pot to help you'."

St. Clair Community College is another partner, working with Michigan Works! and local businesses to offer apprenticeships in fields as diverse as home health care, bricklaying, electricians and even jewelry making.

"The employer pays for the training program to be held at the college and we help them get it all set up," says Scott Bolt, a business account manager with the Port Huron Michigan Works! office. "It helps people get jobs and companies get that skill set they need."

Bolt also works with the Blue Water Chamber of Commerce, presenting twice yearly at the new member luncheons to explain how the agency can help businesses.

"It’s a common misconception that we are 'just' the unemployment office. That is just a small portion of what we do," he says. "I let people know that we are here for job seekers and businesses."

The phones have been especially busy lately as companies grapple with the economic effects of the coronavirus.

"Some employers have never had to lay people off and this is a whole new world to them," Bolt said. One option he has been explaining is the Work Share Program, in which an employer cuts a worker’s hours by 20 percent, which is then paid by unemployment insurance. "Instead of a layoff, it’s a reduction of hours," Bolt says.

Michigan Works! also offers programs tailored to young professionals, veterans, senior citizens, ex-offenders and the working poor who struggle to remain gainfully employed.

John W. Tucker, director of human resources at PTM Corporation in Fair Haven, has placed more than two dozen employees through Michigan Works! since 2013.

"They are a tremendous partner," he says. "You don’t know what they are able to provide until you talk with them about the things you struggle with as an organization. As an HR person looking to throw out a wide net to utilize resources, they have been very reliable."

The EDA’s Bruce Seymore urges companies of all sizes to reach out to Michigan Works!

"Invite them out and tell them what issues and concerns you are having. Give them 30 minutes and hear what they can do to help bring workers in," he says. "They could save you time, effort and money."

Contact Michigan Works! Macomb/St. Clair at (586) 469-5819 or visit macomb-stclairworks.org.

Joyce Wiswell is an Upper Peninsula-based freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in numerous publications and platforms.

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