2018-01-28 / Insight

State program aims to provide opportunities for student to attain skills

810-452-2601 • npugliese@mihomepaper.com

LAPEER COUNTY — The state of Michigan has a problem. Companies in the manufacturing sector and elsewhere are seeing a gap between positions available and qualified employees, and the gap is projected to widen as time goes on.

Enter the Michigan Advanced Technician Training (MAT2) Program — an industry-driven training program structured by the State of Michigan to provide opportunities for students to gain the skills needed by Michigan manufacturers, free of charge.

Designed to address the two major critical issues facing the manufacturing and technology industries, namely the widening skills gap and an aging workforce, the MAT2 program functions similar to an apprenticeship program, seeing students alternate between classroom instruction and on-the-job experience.

According to Michigan Talent Investment Agency division administrator Marcia Black-Watson, the idea behind the program was inspired by a trip taken by Gov. Rick Snyder to Germany in 2012. “The Governor toured facilities in Germany and was able to get a firsthand look at their system of apprenticeship,” she said. “Although the U.S. education system isn’t structured to completely replicate their system, he wanted a program that had similarities to the German apprenticeship system. MAT2 kicked off in the fall of 2013 as a pilot program in mechatronics.”

Students enrolled in the MAT2 program choose an employer with which to sign a five-year agreement, with more than 50 such companies currently involved in the program. For the first three years of the program, students split time between school and work with their chosen employer, and for the final two years work fulltime. Upon completing the three-year schooling session, students earn an associate’s degree, paid for by their employer.

They also receive a $200 weekly stipend while in school sessions, beginning the first week of enrollment. Once the participant completes the program successfully, they are guaranteed a job with the employer. “There’s a need across the state for the industry to grow their own talent,” said Black-Watson. “We’re making sure job-seekers, students and parents understand the opportunity in the trades — the employers are the drivers of the program, and we provide the structure so that it’s like an industry standard.”

To date, 72 students state-wide have graduated from the program. The curriculum was created by the participating companies, said Black-Watson, which ensures the skills learned during the program are relevant. “They’re not just learning theory, they’re able to apply their knowledge in a hands-on way, every eight-week work period at their employer site,” she said.

The only requirement to enroll in the MAT2 program is the completion of a high school diploma or GED. There are no age, experience or financial restrictions. “The program helps employers fill their talent needs. We hear from employers that they can’t find enough skilled trade talent, that a majority of their workforce can retire within the next five years — this program helps address the issues of scarcity of skilled labor, which helps the employer remain competitive,” said Black- Watson. “Also, this helps to train the next generation in the high-tech skills that will be needed to keep Michigan employers competitive.”

While participation in the MAT2 program has been slow to catch on in the Lapeer area, representatives at GST Michigan Works! are providing information to visitors at the office at Mott Community College in Lapeer and elsewhere. “As long as MAT2 is an option, our customers will be made aware of it,” said Jessica Billiau, Director of Service Excellence at GST Michigan Works! “Employers in this process are committed, and would be looking to hire MAT2 applicants for a full-time commitment, that will rotate between school and work over a three year period.”

Billiau said her office is trying to share the word of MAT2 with local employers, and an upcoming forum might be the right place to do it. “We are encouraging local employers to find out more by attending an Employer Information Sessions coming up in February in southeast Michigan, and we encourage interested employers to register,” she said. Prospective employers interested in getting involved in the MAT2 program can register at www.mitalent.org/ mat2-employer-information.

The MAT2 program is one of several ways industry leaders are exploring ways to develop the talent they need, said Billiau. “Whether that is through On-The-Job Training, partnerships with local schools (for example the Innovation Center at Baker/ Mott/UofM Programs) by developing non-traditional apprenticeship models, getting engaged with (United States Dept. of Labor) about Registered Apprenticeships,” she said. “We encourage and support many local businesses who are continuing to evolve their talent attraction and development strategies.”

According to Billiau, the GST Michigan Works! Office will be hosting two upcoming Apprenticeship Forums for employers. “We’ll have Marybeth Koski, from the USDOL Office of Apprenticeship presenting to local employers. The forum will focus on the five basic steps toward creating registered apprenticeships,” she said. There are seats still available for the Feb. 15 session in Lapeer, she said. Those interested in registering are advised to reach out to John Samborski, apprenticeship success coordinator for GSTMW via email at jsamborksi@gstmiworks.org or 810-233-5974, Ext. 707.

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