Collaboration addresses needs of state’s manufacturing industry, employees

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published August 3, 2016


MACOMB COUNTY — The definition of manufacturing is probably different to a 60-year-old individual than to an 18-year-old.

Michigan has long been known as a manufacturing hub, complete with blue-collar workers who are willing to work in different capacities to achieve individual and business aspirations.

In light of what some would call an economic revival in recent years, a group of eight colleges across Michigan are proving that there are needs in advanced manufacturing. The goal is to align someone’s skills to best fit a business’s objectives.

Macomb Community College has collaborated with seven other institutions — Bay College, Grand Rapids Community College, Kellogg Community College, Lake Michigan College, Lansing Community College, Mott Community College and Schoolcraft College — to make this goal a reality as part of a program called the Michigan Coalition for Advanced Manufacturing.

It is year three of a four-year, $24.9 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. Its goal is to impact students, employers, communities and the state as a whole by training and supporting individuals in areas of advanced manufacturing in order to obtain employment and receive wage increases.

Dr. Jim Jacobs, president of Macomb Community College, said advanced manufacturing is replacing traditional blue-collar jobs of the past. His college, as well as the others involved, are looking at the present and future in a bigger picture.

“Michigan is a state where manufacturing really matters to the economy,” Jacobs said. “And since 2008, we’ve gone through some fairly difficult times, and that has certainly impacted manufacturing. But what also has impacted manufacturing is that the skill sets needed have changed.

“In response to the great layoffs and Great Recession, the college knew that we had to take a look at our manufacturing programs. And as the economy began to recover — i.e. the manufacturing and auto industry started to rebound — we knew there would be some opportunities and jobs, but we also knew that these jobs would be different than the previous jobs and require different skill sets.”

He identified three points of emphasis that led to the seeking of the grant in the first place: employers seeking individuals with particular skill sets, while those who possessed such skill sets were unable to link with such employers; in an attempt to mitigate the disastrous effects of the 2008 recession, the federal government became very interested in funding jobs for people in local communities; and the final aspect, which may be most important, is that the eight-college consortium is working together as partners.

“We wanted to have this curriculum being developed to be utilized by manufacturing companies all over the state,” Jacobs said.

The focus of M-CAM — which Jacobs explains is not a course but a curriculum — has the input of local companies. It aides and educates displaced workers, veterans and employed individuals who are seeking higher wages or skill-based upgrades in four main areas: production operators; welding and fabrication; computer numerical control; and multi-skilled technicians.

The results have reportedly been staggering thus far, and Jacobs points out that enrollment goals have already exceeded expectations with one year to spare in the current grant.

Since its inception, about 50 percent of 2,800 participants are employed in some capacity, and about 75 percent of individuals who completed an M-CAM program have received a wage increase — in terms of making more than the state’s minimum wage of $8.15 per hour — over their previous earnings.

As of April 2016, 37 percent of participants had completed and exited programs, while 52 percent were still enrolled. Also, 70 percent of individuals were employed in the quarter after their program’s exit.

The benefit has been twofold. From the perspective of an individual company, it’s finding people with skills that are useful for expansion and growth and in turns helps an entire region in terms of taxes and people demanding goods and services, and that reverberates into the local economy.

Essentially, people who are getting jobs are getting jobs in industries connected with Michigan-based manufacturing.

“This is really allowing Macomb County specifically, but Michigan as a state, to realize economic growth and economic activity. … When you ask the question ‘Which state has created the most jobs?’ Michigan is second in the country,” Jacobs said. “The only state that exceeded us is a state like California, which has four or five times the population.

“We think M-CAM and the curriculum developed and the process is really making a difference.”

With the current grant set to expire in 2017, Jacobs said the goal is for the eight colleges to continue to work together. This includes going further, such as acknowledging signed agreements that recognize that if someone took classes at one particular M-CAM location, then that curriculum would be recognized across the state. He said it levels the playing field.

Advanced manufacturing skills are still a work in progress in a technology-heavy world, due to skills consistently evolving with the times. Jacobs said M-CAM not only teaches the tech, but also teaches individuals how to learn through modules that focus on “soft skills” in which individuals learn how to work in teams, adhere to project management and conclude work on a feasible schedule.

It’s not just learning about operating a particular piece of equipment, he said. It’s more about developing new skills.

The future of this curriculum involves identifying key points of success for the foreseeable future, including: continuing to see it as part of the state’s economic development and embed it within other institutions so all Michigan companies can have access to focused areas; looking at federal grant possibilities and connecting it more to apprentice work; and continuing the project after the grant’s end and using it as a springboard to continue the relationship between companies and employers.

“We’re able now with this grant — the economy is certainly improving since 2008, but there’s still lots of people that the recovery has sort of passed them by,” he said. “So, there are opportunities and this grant has really changed the lives of some individuals. It gives people a second chance.”

Macomb Community College’s M-CAM facility is located on Van Dyke Road, between Interstate 696 and 12 Mile Road. Click for more information on the curriculum.