It’s no secret Michigan is awash in bad economic news:
• The nation’s highest unemployment rate—12.6 percent.
• The state’s lowest employment since early 1994—fewer than 4.3 million in March.
• No end in sight for the troubles of Detroit’s Big Three automakers and their dependent suppliers.
So why is Thomas Marciano so upbeat?
He is among more than 61,000 people who have enrolled in the No Worker Left Behind program, a three-year effort to train Michigan workers for jobs in sectors where they will have a better chance of finding employment. It pays tuition costs of up to $5,000 a year for two years at Michigan colleges or approved training programs.
Like Marciano, many No Worker Left Behind (NWLB) participants had careers in the struggling auto industry.
Marciano, 57, of Grosse Pointe Park, was a skilled tradesman for the Budd Co. for more than 20 years. When the plant that stamps out automotive parts closed two years ago, “I had no options at all,” he said.
Last year, Marciano enrolled at Macomb Community College in suburban Detroit, alongside nearly 900 others studying there as part of the NWLB program. He’s working toward an associate degree in accounting. His tuition and books—nearly $2,000 a semester—are paid by the program.
“It has been a real lifesaver,” said Marciano, who is required to take classes full time for four semesters, finish within two years and maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average.
He made the dean’s list with a 3.3 GPA in his first semester last fall.
“It’s hard to get back into it, but you just have to hit the books,” he said of the 24 to 30 hours of studying he puts in every week.
Kathy Grenda, dean of student success at the college, says NWLB students “are very devoted, are very excited to be here, and really do what they need to do to complete some education and training and get back to work.”
To qualify for NWLB, applicants must be 18 or older, unemployed or have received notice of termination or layoff, or employed but have a family income of $40,000 or less.
In March, the state announced it will expand NWLB and train significantly more workers, bolstered by $197 million in federal stimulus money.
Diana Carpenter, a point person for the NWLB program in Lansing, says the state wants to be sure that people are training in areas where workers are in demand. That includes fields such as health care, transportation—primarily truck driving—computer and administrative support as well as emerging “green” occupations such as wind turbine and solar panel manufacturing.
Jacqueline Morrison, AARP Michigan’s associate director for economic security and work, applauds the effort. In the past four years, AARP has held about a dozen forums for members around the state to educate them about available resources, including NWLB.
“If you haven’t looked for a job in 30 years, you probably have never utilized the public workforce system,” Morrison said, referring to government-funded programs like NWLB designed to help job seekers. “Folks need a little support.”
In addition to its own forums, AARP supplies educational materials for other events for older workers; recruits at job fairs for training programs administered by the AARP Foundation; works with employers to develop best practices; and offers online skill assessment tools such as WorkSearch.
Proper assessment, upgrading of skills and paying attention to emerging employment sectors are key, Morrison said, because “lifelong learning is a must nowadays.”
Kathleen O’Gorman is a freelance writer and editor based in Royal Oak, Mich.