Michigan Works!, Ann Arbor SPARK team up to aid businesses and workers

Jim Totten| Daily Press & Argus

Ann Arbor SPARK and the Michigan Works! Livingston Service Center have teamed up to assist employers and employees in the county.

The two organizations recently signed an agreement to coordinate their work-force and economic development services to prevent duplication of their efforts.

In the past two months, Michigan Works! employees have accompanied SPARK on more than a dozen visits to area companies.

“It makes sense we work as partners,” said Phil Santer, the senior business-
development manager for SPARK’s Livingston office.

Santer said his organization is focused on the needs of employers, and Michigan Works! is able to step in and provide short-term programs to meet those needs.

One of the key issues has been a shortage of skilled workers to operate and program robots in manufacturing facilities. Officials said this skills gap is happening in Michigan as well as across the nation.

William Sleight, director of Livingston County Michigan Works!, said his department has been hearing about this trend during visits with local employers.

“Hearing what their needs are and what their issues are, we can address their issues more effectively,” he said.

He said Michigan Works! arranged for Mott Community College to provide two five-week classes to train people to operate and program robots, and another class will be held this year. Of the 20 people in the classes, he said, all have found employment.

With the skills gap, Sleight said, people looking for work don’t necessarily have the skills the employers are demanding. Sleight said many manufacturing employees were laid off in 2009, and those returning to the work force don’t have updated skills.

Sleight said southeastern Michigan has more openings for robotics operators and programmers, known as computer-numerical control, than almost any region in the country. Another reason for the shortage could be pay; he said companies aren’t paying the same rate as a handful of years ago.

With the new partnership, Sleight said, “We want to focus on training the skills that are in demand right now.”

Michigan Works! manages and operates state and federal work-force programs, including training to help people get back to work.

SPARK, an Ann Arbor-based economic development organization, handles economic development for Livingston County as part of a contract with the Economic Development Council of Livingston County. The county’s economic development organization will pay SPARK $335,880 annually over a three-year period.

SPARK provides business retention and attraction services for the county.

Contact Daily Press & Argus reporter Jim Totten at (517) 548-7088 or at jtotten@gannett.com.

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