From the January 29 MLIVE -- Jobs continue to go unfilled in Michigan, yet the state also is home to nearly 750,000 adults without a high school diploma.
A new program seeks to bridge that gap, offering an online high school diploma and free workforce credentials - as well as job placement - in construction or health care.
"To grow the economy of the state, we have to have the workforce to take the middle skills jobs out there," said Greg Harp, senior vice president of Graduation Alliance.
The Utah-based company recently formalized the deal with the state's Talent Investment Agency to offer Michigan 23+ Adult Diploma and Training Program. Anyone in Michigan aged 23 or over and with a 10th grade education is eligible to participate.
The service offers more than a no-cost diploma. There is counseling and other guidance, in recognition that the people who qualify may have jobs, families and difficult circumstances to juggle as they return to school.
At the end, there's job placement after training that, Harp said, is "stackable" if the student decides to go further in school or in their new career fields.
"We're serving some of the hardest to serve students," Harp said, noting that the company is working with 30,000 people nationwide. "Some have heartbreaking stories. ... but we're able to give them opportunities."
The 23+ program is just one initiative in Michigan to boost career training in Michigan. Among recent moves is a $5 million grant awarded by the Michigan Department of Education for 14 school districts to buy specialized equipment and expand programs.
Gov. Rick Snyder has prioritized career education as jobs become more specialized due to technology and as others - notably in the skilled trades - go unfilled. It's a concern amid Michigan's low unemployment rate that contrasts with the number of potential workers who have stepped out of the job market.
In June 2017, Snyder set up the Michigan Career Pathways Alliance, under the MDOE and the Michigan Department of Talent and Economic Development. The alliance includes more than 100 education, business, economic development and labor organizations from across the state.
"A top priority I've had for years is career technical education," Snyder said during his State of the State address this month. "I've made it one of my missions. We need to do more to support them and get more young people interested in having these great, outstanding careers."
The new program was set up by the TIA, which chose Graduation Alliance to launch the effort. It's funded through a pay-for-performance model, said Harp. Up to $1.5 million will be paid to the company, depending on number of students and the success rate.
"The state will only pay if we get outcomes," Harp said.
Those outcomes include awarding diplomas, and seeing the students through the workforce qualifications.
The construction job track leads to general labor positions that pay $10 to $15 per hour to start, giving participants a head start on applying for apprenticeship programs.
"There are hundreds of jobs open," Harp said. "They're begging for people."
The healthcare track leads to lower paying jobs in personal care. The positions, Harp said, tend to be flexible, and also open doors to the next level of training and responsibility.
The program started in mid- December, and 150 students are enrolled. Harp said it could take up to about 700 students during the pilot program that ends in September.
Residents of any area in Michigan are eligible, but Harp said the job training requires some hands-on experience, and partnerships that exist to provide that are based in Southeast Michigan and Grand Rapids. Internet connections also are required, and Graduation Alliance will help participants work that out.
For a person who may be from a family of multi- generational drop-outs, the combination of the diploma and real work can lead to employment stability - and set higher expectations for the next generation, Harp set.
The success rates in other states' programs are about 47-50 percent, he said. That's high, considering the challenges facing the student population.
He's hoping for similar results in Michigan.
The work, he said, "sets students on a pathway that is headed the right direction."