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Holland-area schools, businesses form manufacturing partnerships

Enrollment in career and technical education programs has risen almost five percent in Michigan since 2015, with 109,055 students enrolled in these programs in 2017, compared to 104,038 in 2015.

At a time when manufacturers are left scrambling for employees, local manufacturing companies have taken to forming partnerships with local schools to serve as a pipeline into the industry.

In the most recent data provided by the Department of Labor, manufacturing was listed as one of the top industries struggling to find employees qualified for the available jobs.

In total, there were 80,450 job postings in the state and only 12,561 certificates and degrees awarded. Looking long term, there are expected to be 3.5 million manufacturing job openings in the next decade alone.

While companies are now doing more to retain the employees they already have, by offering benefit packages and other methods, the current struggle is to find young employees to fill positions of long-term employees preparing to retire.

That is where these local partnerships come into play.

The longest and most common partnership between businesses and schools is through career and technical centers, and that’s also the case in Ottawa County. The Careerline Tech Center offers several programs to K-12 students, including the manufacturing areas of engineering design and machine technologies, mechatronics/robotics and welding.

Students in these areas, and all areas at Careerline Tech, are helped by the center’s business advisors, who provide opportunities for students including full-time and part-time employment, job shadows, work experiences, and co-op education.

This partnership isn’t just helping students and businesses in Ottawa County, but across the state.

Enrollment in career and technical education programs has risen almost five percent in Michigan since 2015, with 109,055 students enrolled in these programs in 2017, compared to 104,038 in 2015. The number of programs available also rose from 1,754 in 2015 to 1,915 in 2017, an increase of 9.2 percent.

Those students are finishing strong in these programs as well, with a graduation rate of 96 percent for three years straight. The statewide placement rate was 96.3 percent for 2017, which means at least 19 out of 20 career and technical education students were in college, advanced training, the military or employed in the third quarter after they left school.

The Michigan Department of Education is optimistic that the numbers will continue to grow, as efforts at the state level are underway to further grow career and technical education programs. A five-bill package, passed by the House and currently being considered by the Senate, would expand recruitment and development for both students and instructors.

“We must keep up the momentum to help make Michigan career- and college-ready so they can compete for highpaying jobs in the 21st century marketplace,” State superintendent Brian Whiston said.

The Ottawa County area, however, isn’t waiting for the state to act, and has already created expanded partnerships and programs.

In 2016, Careerline Tech Center, Grand Rapids Community College and Herman Miller joined forces to launch the Early College Program. The three-year program is offered to eligible high school juniors enrolled in the following Careerline Tech Center programs: electrical/alternative energy, engineering design and machine technologies, mechatronics/robotics and welding.

During fall of their senior year, students will start college coursework at GRCC’s Lakeshore Campus, at the Thompson M-TEC facility in Holland. In their 13th year of school, third year in the early college program, students will continue their work at Herman Miller for up to 20 hours per week and attend GRCC classes for up to 12 hours per week.

Students who graduate from the Early College program will leave with a high school diploma, an Industrial Maintenance Certificate from GRCC and an official transcript with up to 30 free transferable college credits.

Nine students were accepted in the first year of the program, and Careerline Tech director Dave Serales said enrollment nearly doubled for the second year.

“Thanks to our partnership with Grand Rapids Community College and local businesses, high school students have the opportunity to build 21st century workforce skills, gain industry exposure and earn free college credit,” he said. “CTC Early College also helps build a stronger skilled workforce and improves the employment outlooks for students who complete the program.”

At Herman Miller, the idea to form these partnership goes back as far as 2009. At the time, the company saw there were going to be a number of retirements from longtime employees and a number of high schools were cutting technical classes.

According to Alison Freas, academy program manager at Herman Miller, in 2012, Herman Miller launched the Herman Miller Academy, which was a program that brought 20 students from local schools onsite to learn about different career opportunities.

Freas said the main goal of these partnerships is to show high school students that there are options after high school other than going to college and it places the students at entry level positions and allows them to learn about the position from the ground up.

So far, Herman Miller has gotten positive results from its programs in the form of students remaining at Herman Miller.

“It was never intended that all would,” Freas said. “We had hoped that some would, particularly in manufacturing where they have done the work and have seen what a career would look like.”

Because of the various programs, a number of students have gone on to roles within manufacturing and also in engineering at the company. And as Freas said, whether they work for Herman Miller or a competitor, another person in manufacturing is good for the community.

A second local partnership, Project Lead The Way, was launched in 2017 by Holland High School and is financed by Holland manufacturer Motus Integrated Technologies. The program will run through June 2020.

The program is the school’s latest push to help students begin to learn about STEM/STEAM careers, which stands for science, technology, engineering, mathematics and art.

It starts with students as young as seventh grade and takes them up through tenth grade.

“It is great because they will get that really good base of science, technology, engineering and math,” said Stacy Spondike, vice president of human resources at Motus Integrated Technologies. “It helps them prepare for college courses or if they chose not to go on to college courses, it prepares them to take other avenues from a career aspect.”

The reasoning behind forming this partnership comes from the fact that Motus is so dependent on engineering and technology. The hope is that through this partnership, it will lead to future internships and possibly work after that, whether it is after high school or college.

“Not only is it enhancing these young minds and helping shape their futures, it is this hands down partnership with internships and future roles with the company and then really helping build up our community,” Spondike said. “We are hoping that this program goes on for more than the three years that we have initially signed up for for the initial grant. We hope this turns into future grants.”

Hamilton’s Pioneer Tech High School also has a partnership with several local businesses as a career readiness program. Launched in the 2016-17 school year, the program lets the students visit area companies to explore their own career interests and learn what’s available. Many of those partner companies are manufacturers like Trans-matic, Omni Die, and Thermotron.

“We are communicating to the children that no matter what job they hold — whether they want to be a janitor or the president of a company — all are needed and important roles in our society,” said Mark Perkins, plant manager at Omni Die & Engineering. “The more other companies can join in and help children see their options, the more prepared they will be when leaving school.”

Seniors at Pioneer Tech are also encouraged to create a digital portfolio that includes a resume, cover letter, discussion of different careers they’ve reviewed, field trip notes, their best work and hopefully, a job shadow or two. Partner businesses help with that as well, and Pioneer Tech has added part of the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District’s futurePREP’d program on skills for success.

“It’s exciting, because I think in the West Michigan area, companies are very interested in helping young people understand better what’s out there and what their possibilities are,” Pioneer Tech director Joy Zomer said. “The students are looking forward to people coming in, and I think they’re getting a lot of support from businesses. The businesses are saying ‘we’ll train you. If you’re interested in what we do, we’ll help you do it.’”