Twenty Muskegon County companies have landed more than $1 million in state funding for job training programs, and the financial award is paving the way for hundreds of new hires and trainees in a region facing a shortage of workers with skills needed to fill open positions.
The state’s Talent Investment Agency (TIA) recently announced that companies in Muskegon, Muskegon Heights, Norton Shores, Whitehall, Ravenna, and Spring Lake were awarded a total of $1,072,549 as part of the organization’s attempts to support short-term training in high-demand occupations. The funding is part of $29 million awarded by the TIA for 780 employers across Michigan.
Coming from the TIA’s Going PRO Talent Fund, the money translates to companies being able to both hire new individuals and train current employees. About 293 new hires are expected and a total of approximately 860 individuals will be trained in Muskegon County because of this funding, according to West Michigan Works!, a group that aims to grow and support the region’s workforce. West Michigan Works! helped area companies apply for the TIA funding.
“We know that, longterm, we’ll have a significant need for skilled workers,” West Michigan Works! Director of Business Solutions Amy Lebednick said, noting that the growing fields of healthcare, manufacturing, construction, information technology, and agro-business are facing talent gaps. In other words, while there are open positions in these fields, employers are unable to find workers with the skills needed to fill jobs.
“It’s important we address that skill gap now,” Lebednick continued. “There’s low unemployment right now. That means there’s a critical need to upskill the current workforce to meet the growing talent needs of employers…We’re looking at high numbers of retirees in the skilled trades. Putting all those together, we do have a gloomy workforce we’re looking at. If we address the skill gap right now, we’ll be better set in the future to make sure employers are staying competitive in the market.”
Currently, there’s close to 100,000 open positions on the Pure Michigan Talent Connect website, which seeks to connect job seekers with employers. In Muskegon alone, there’s 477 open jobs listed. State officials anticipate that the professional trades fields will add at least 15,000 new jobs each year through 2024. In a “hot jobs” list compiled by West Michigan Works!, the organization provides a comprehensive look at what positions are opening up each year in the West Michigan area, including hundreds of nursing assistant jobs, registered nurses, general and operations managers, team assemblers, sales representatives, and more.
As employers look to connect with the workers they need, the more than $1 million from the state will “help them to invest in the local workforce,” Lebednick said.
“It ensures they have the talent to compete and grow, not just within the local area of Muskegon, but West Michigan and even globally,” she continued. “It’s a win-win for the employer and the employee. Employers are able to invest in their staff, and they’re getting the talent they need.”
In Muskegon County, companies received funding ranging from $4,500 to $263,790. At the 120-employee La Colombe coffee factory in Norton Shores, a $34,248 award will allow the three-year-old factory to hire new people and provide training for current workers.
“Year over year, we’ve had about 85 percent growth, which is very challenging to keep up with,” said La Colombe Plant Manager Jason Murray. “At 85 percent, we have to continue to invest in current employees and add staff.”
As companies struggle to find employees throughout West Michigan and across the state, Murray said he has had success finding workers who are eager to learn but may not have the necessary skills for the job immediately upon hiring.
“I’ve given up looking for skilled employees,” he said. “I’m looking for people who I can train. I look for someone who’s a natural born leader.”
“That’s what’s important about these grants,” Murray continued. “The amount of skilled people out there is not available for the work that’s needed. As employers, we need to embrace that.”
To ensure La Colombe has the workers it needs, Murray is looking beyond the resume and instead focuses on workers’ potential.
“People running the plant are people who walked in with entry-level skill sets,” he said. “Most don’t have secondary education. I’ve invested a lot of time sending them to trainings.”
As the Muskegon area grows, Murray said he’d like to see the talent gap addressed with more skilled trades education for youth.
“We used to have shop classes in school; those are being removed,” he said. “Skilled labor is still very much a thing, and it’s something we need to keep in our schools. I do believe skilled labor will become a higher paid position that salaries positions.”
Additionally, Murray is looking forward to further connecting his employees with necessary skills training at a new food processing program being launched by Muskegon Community College and Michigan State University.
Flexibility in hiring and management combined with a focus on providing jobs for younger residents has proved instrumental to growing La Colombe, Murray emphasized. A college student pursuing his bachelor’s in applied science landed a job packaging at the La Colombe facility, and he ended up making a “huge impact on our company,” the plant manager said.
“When we started the plant—we’ve been running for three years—we had to find balance between the milk and the coffee,” Murray said. “When you put the two together, the proteins want to separate out…This student helped us get to an end result that allows us to manufacture every day.”
The entire list of companies that landed the TIA state funding in Muskegon County are:
- ADAC, Muskegon
- Anderson Global, Muskegon Heights
- Camcar Plastics, Muskegon
- Dynamic Conveyor, Norton Shores
- Hilite International, Whitehall
- Howmet Arconic, Whitehall
- Johnson Technology/GE Aviation, Muskegon
- L-3, Muskegon
- Mercy Health, Muskegon
- Metal Technologies, Ravenna
- Michigan Spring & Stamping, Muskegon
- Scherdel, Muskegon
- Seabrook Plastics, Muskegon
- Seminole Shores ALC, Norton Shores
- Titan Tool & Die, Norton Shores
- EPI Breads/Lavoi Corp, Norton Shores
- Fomcore, Muskegon
- La Colombe, Norton Shores
- Lakeside Spring, Spring Lake
- Rolar Products, Muskegon Heights
Companies that would like to apply for next year’s funding, as well as learn about still available funding from the TIA, can contact West Michigan Works! through their website or by calling their Muskegon Service Center at 231-724-6381.