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Climbing pole to $100,000 per year

When Michigan legislators seek guidance for the state’s economic woes, they may want to look up ... they may just catch a glimpse of the future of workforce development.

His name is Dan Kilgore, a 31-year-old from Battle Creek. Working today as an electric line technician, Kilgore got his job by participating in a partnership between Consumers Energy and Lansing Community College.

Part bookwork, part old-fashioned apprenticeship, the vocational training certification program offers one model for a state struggling to transform its work force.

Kilgore spent $10,000 at LCC earning the certification, walking off campus with a job that, in his first year, will likely gross $60,000. Many can eventually make upwards of $100,000 a year with overtime. The utility company gets workers who are trained by the time they first punch a clock. But the biggest winner could eventually be the state, if policy-makers can find a way to encourage more partnerships between companies and colleges.

A Bridge Magazine analysis of job projections through 2018 has found the state likely will have an overabundance of some highly educated workers, and a shortage in other fields. Tailoring vocational programs to the needs of employers desperate for skilled workers could be just the ticket for businesses, students -- and Michigan.

LCC’s line technician certification program begins in a classroom in Lansing. For the last nine weeks of the program, students get hands-on training at a Consumers Energy facility in Marshall, said Mattie McKinney, spokesperson for Consumers Energy.

The program is an example of a growing trend among Michigan community colleges. “It doesn’t show up on data sheets, but it’s happening a lot,” said Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association. “It’s the fastest growing part of community college.”

Across the state, community colleges are partnering with industries or specific companies. “It gets people out there with a skill to get started, and they can come back later for a degree if they want,” Hansen said.

Not all get hired by Consumers, but graduates of the program have the training to get jobs elsewhere. “It makes them marketable at utilities around the country,” McKinney said.  “This line of work is in demand.”
While a few dozen new line technicians won’t budge the state’s stubbornly high unemployment figures, they do represent a growing effort to link education to jobs.

“We’re in a perfect storm,” said Carolyn Teich, senior program associate for workforce development at the American Association of Community Colleges. “The need for middle skills is huge.”

“I have friends who are teachers who interview and interview, and can’t get a job in Michigan because the market is saturated,” Kilgore said. “I researched the market, looking for what career was best in the long term for my family.”

Teich said it is becoming commonplace for industries to help develop curriculum for certification programs, in order to ensure they have a steady stream of trained workers. One result is students can leave school with a good shot at a job.

“It’s incumbent for (community colleges) to work with area businesses,” Teich said.

“I’m a great believer in a liberal arts education” Teich said. “But for people who need a job and only need a certain skill, these programs are wonderful.”

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