Skilled Trades Training Fund to Award $29 Million in Grants: Oct. 1 begins new cycle

Funds to train the skilled trades are getting a big boost from the state.

Starting Oct. 1, businesses can compete for a piece of the state’s Skilled Trades Training Fund (STTF), a $29 million competitive grant program.

Last year’s STFF awarded $17.1 million to 450 applicants.

In the northwest Michigan region, 24 companies, mostly manufacturing, received slightly more than $647,000 in grants.

Traverse City’s Bay Motor Products Inc. makes motors, blowers, and fans. It has used $55,000 in grant money over three years to train employees on lean manufacturing practices and computer-aided design processes.

“The funding made perfect sense for us as we stepped into that process, as there was a lot of training we needed to do,” said Andy Robitshek, the company’s president.

The training was run through Northwestern Michigan College’s Training Services.

“The trainings were a valuable conduit toward embracing lean manufacturing, which has helped our company meet customer needs and grow the business,” Robitshek said.

The money flows through local Michigan Works! agencies. Northwest Michigan Works! which serves as a liaison between businesses and state, “has been great to work with,” said Robitshek.

Stephanie Beckhorn, senior deputy director of workforce development in the Michigan Talent Investment Agency, said the program, entering its fifth year, has been successful and “embraced by employers in our state.”

The STTF falls under the state’s Going Pro campaign, an initiative to elevate the perception of professional trades and showcase opportunities in a variety of careers.

The campaign targets skilled-trades jobs in industries including advanced manufacturing, construction, information technology and healthcare.

Beckhorn said the state plans to release applications to agencies in mid-September and will accept applications through the first week of October, awarding grants prior to Thanksgiving.

In the last award round, training assisted by a $3,000 STTF grant helped Grand Traverse Machine Co. increase its ability to bid on military projects and commercial work.

The company, which manufactures precision machined products such as industrial shock absorbers, hydraulic cylinders and parts for military vehicles, used the grant to send two welding employees to a trade school class where they received American Welding Society certification, said company president Mike Alfonso.

“The training gave the company more opportunities for military projects and other work because of the certification required,” Alfonso said. “It really improved the employees’ skill set.”

Terry Vandercook, director of operations at Northwest Michigan Works!, said the STTF gives employers access to training dollars with very few restrictions.

“They can train both incumbent or active workforce, as well as new hires with this program, with very few eligibility factors to meet,” he said. “And they have a wide range of training available to them; they can train to almost any technical skill than an employer can need.”

Vandercook said the agency guides employers through the entire process, providing reimbursement when training is completed.

“Each employer only has to work with us,” he said.

Successful applicants are advised to exhibit strong and compelling training rationale. All training funded by the STTF must fill a demonstrated talent need experienced by an employer and be three to six months in duration, with the exception of apprenticeships.

Rob Dickinson, business services coordinator with Northwest Michigan Works!, said competitive applications “tell a story,” including details about the company and benefits of the proposed training to company and employees.

For example, an employer might state if the training would open up new markets, prevent layoffs, enable it to add work and jobs, or lead to higher wages for those trained.

The employer’s contribution or “leveraged funds” toward the training project, like associated costs or loss of production while the employee-in-training is away, is also important, he said.

“The most competitive grant applications will have more leveraged funds, or skin in the game, than they are asking for,” Dickinson said. “Bringing on an apprentice or new hires can also strengthen employer applications.”

Beckhorn said that while the majority of applications are from individual employers, businesses in a particular industry that have a shared challenge or need can also collaborate and submit a group application.

“We’re really trying to meet the needs that employers have to fill their talent gap,” she said.

Amy Lane is a freelance journalist and former reporter for Crain’s Detroit Business, where she covered business, state government, energy and utilities for nearly 25 years.

Skilled Trades Training Fund Awards Region 2 – FY17

AAR Mobility Systems, Cadillac $31,434

Armor Express, Central Lake $15,000

Bay Motor Products, Traverse City $11,900

BorgWarner Thermal Systems, Cadillac $11,500

Central Industrial Manufacturing, Inc., Harbor Springs $4,500

DCL Inc., Charlevoix $15,900

Grand Traverse Machine, Traverse City $3,000

Hutchinson Antivibration Systems, Inc., Cadillac $24,532.39

Lear Corp., Traverse City $5,789.40

LexaMar Corp., Boyne City $117,407

Manthei Veneer, Petoskey $70,280

Materne North America Corp., Grawn $15,000

Michigan Rubber Products, Cadillac $21,484

Norcross Co., dba Preston Feather Building Centers, Petoskey $85,715

Northwest Design Group LLC, Petoskey $3,010

Petoskey Plastics, Petoskey $34,490

Pro Image Design, Traverse City $8,355

Rexair LLC, Cadillac $31,605

Saber Tool, Cadillac $6,000

Shoreline Fruit LLC, Traverse City $32,659.28

Shoreline Power Services Inc., Williamsburg $66,000

Top Line Electric, Traverse City $3,000

United Engineered Tooling Inc., Traverse City $10,500

Van Dam Custom Boats, Boyne City, $18,000

TOTAL $647,061.07

Sponsoring Agency: Northwest Michigan Works!