Close Michigan’s skills gap with proven technique

The Detroit News

State officials talk often about closing Michigan’s skills gap. Roughly 80,000 jobs are available, but are unfilled because employers can’t find qualified workers. Lawmakers should support the expansion of one state program that’s getting good results in training workers for existing jobs.

The state Senate passed legislation Tuesday that would expand the successful Michigan New Jobs Training Program, which promotes job growth and provides skilled training to workers through local community colleges.

“The program has been very successful in promoting opportunities and connecting businesses and community colleges to meet the need for specific skilled training,” said Sen. Mark Jansen, R-Gaines Township, in a statement. He is the bill’s sponsor.

Jansen’s legislation established the initiative in 2008, and this new bill would secure the future of the program — currently set to sunset in 2018 — and end arbitrary spending caps.

Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, chairs the Education Committee, which initially approved the bill. He believes the program is helping improve the lives of thousands of Michiganians.

The program lets community colleges create specialized training courses through flexible financing to support companies that are expanding job opportunities in Michigan.

It generated more than $76 million in additional earnings and 2,266 new jobs in 2012, according to a report from the Anderson Economic Group, a research and consulting firm.

Under the program, the community college training is paid for by capturing the state income tax associated with the new employees’ wages and redirecting it to the college, instead of to the state. These jobs are required to pay at least 175 percent of the state minimum wage.

“By definition, it eliminates the skills gap,” says Mike Hansen, the president of the Michigan Community College Association.

Hansen estimates 15 community colleges have participated, training more than 6,800 employees for 83 companies. The number of new jobs supported by existing agreements is projected at nearly 12,000.

The current law set a $50 million cap on the total outstanding obligation of all new jobs training agreements.

The updated legislation would remove the cap and clear the waiting list of additional programs.

Unlike most federal job training programs, which the General Accounting Office says waste $16 billion a year, this state-run program could hardly be more efficient. Local businesses tell the community colleges the skills they need in workers, and the colleges craft specific training programs.

The House should approve this legislation. It is working to reduce the skills gap in Michigan, which will pave the way to better jobs and higher household incomes in the state.