Employer Services in Michigan
Demand Driven System to Deliver Employer Services in Michigan
The fact that American universities are offering quality education to their students may not be disputed (Chan & Derry, 2013 p. 28). Universities in America are habitually ranked among the best academic institutions globally. According to Chan & Derry (2013), most university vision statements have two related components that constitute their missions. The first one is to offer quality education to the students. This component is well executed. The second one is the preparation of students for life after school, especially a life of work and careers after graduation. Most colleges have failed in accomplishing this second part of their missions. A study conducted by Chegg established that there is a wide gap between the perceptions of managers and graduates on the readiness of graduates to be successful in the work place (Bridge that Gap, 2013 p. 6).
However, it is encouraging that universities are more actively involved in the preparation of students for life after college. Smith (2012) highlights the recent trends in universities’ approach to the preparation of students for life after college within a historical perspective. One of the reasons why universities have become more involved in preparing students for life after college is increased accountability requirements. Different stakeholders in the education sector require seeing a return on their investments. Higher education is quite costly and people have greater expectations from it. They expect that graduates should get good paying jobs after college, and not become jobless at home. According to Smith (2012, p. 10) due to the prevailing harsh economic conditions, it is incumbent upon universities to form partnerships, within and outside the college in order to come up with programs and services that prepare students for life after school.
The government recognizes the fact that there are various graduates who are employed or underemployed and has over the years initiated programs to assist such people in improving their prospects in the job market. In 1998, the federal government enacted the Workforce Investment Act. This piece of legislation was aimed at increasing coordination among federal workforce development and programs related to it (Bradley, 2013). The development programs offer education as well as training services that prepare individuals for the work place while also growing their prospects in the job market. The WIA Act gave funds for the implementation of the programs under its scope. Although the expiry of the act was in the financial year 2003, it has been extended every year for some time (Bradley, 2013).
Although the WIA Act was initiated to offer means through which youths, adults and displaced workers could acquire relevant skills for the job market, it has mixed results (Hollenbeck, 2009). According to Hollenbeck (2009), WIA seems to be effective for adults. However, those programs for the youth have had negligible efficacy and not showed significant positive results. On the other hand, Barnow and Smith (2008) suggest that most of the programs under WIA have not been subjected to a thorough cost-benefit analysis. Consequently, most of the training programs tend to have no effect at all or at best produce modest positive results. Even though the programs may have a low cost-benefit quotient, some of them can be justified on grounds of equity. The lack of positive results may also be impacted by the poor implementation of the programs. The programs do not have proper funding and the implementation is haphazardly done.
Michigan is among the states that have done substantial work in the preparation of students for the workplace. Long before the federal government enacted the WIA Act in 1998, the Michigan state government had already been doing some pioneering work towards enhancing the efficiency, innovation and effectiveness of its labor force (O’Shea, 2003 p. 55). This work was done b y the office of the governor in collaboration with practitioners from the private and public sectors. The state already had the delivery and oversight structures in place by the time it started implementing the WIA Act in July 2000 (O’Shea, 2003 p. 57).
As early as 1993, the state of Michigan had already initiated a ‘’One-Stop Career Center Model’’ (O’Shea, 2003). These centers were later renamed to Michigan Works Service Centers (MWSC) and formally institutionalized as the delivery model for the state. The state also pioneered the use of technology in the early 90s through an initiative known as the Michigan Opportunity System. This system offered automated information kiosks and tried to ensure better access to training and employment, streamline service delivery and improve the quality and breadth of consumer choices. Michigan has continued to refine the use of technology, pre and post WIA.
The MWSCs are usually operated by private contractors who offer the services on behalf of the state. To make sure that excellence standards are maintained, and that the MWSCs are valuable to clients, they state the minimum requirements for certification as a One-Stop Career Center (O’Shea, 2003 p. 71). For a center to attain certification it must provide the core job seeker and employer services, have set the minimum partnerships and provide on-site program services. The centers should also be accountable for the delivery of services, meet the design requirements for facilities and have acceptable marketing as well as customer relations practices. The MWSCs are also required to have a self-service area which is equipped with the recommended resources, including labor market, automated center and other online-based resources. It is also important that print resources are available.
In the past, economic development, education, labor force development and business service agencies have operated in isolation, far apart from each other (Polzin et al, 2010 p. 2). They are yet to take advantage of the synergies arising when assets from all the domains listed above work together in addressing business needs. For this gap to be narrowed, Michigan created the Business Solutions Professional (BSP) Certification program. At first, the program was mean for upgrading professional skills in workforce development. Its effectiveness was however; lower than expected since it became clear that for it to be effective, practitioners from the education, economic development and business services sectors had to be involved in the plan.
The South Central Michigan Works Business Services staff came up with an integrated approach towards workforce development (Polzin et al, 2010 p. 2). The development of the plan was influenced by observations made by the staff in the process of workforce development. Through the experimentation of their training approach, they discovered that they were able to more effectively serve the businesses and job seekers in the area by shifting from the traditional model of labor force development, which emphasized on human services. The new model created in Michigan engages education, economic development, business services, workforce development and practitioners in a program that integrates coursework and supervised comprehensive field work. The program assists trainees in developing skills, knowledge and the necessary understanding required for using a systematic approach that identifies and addresses business needs as a major element in the creation and retention of employment.
The training design and implementation for the new project is controlled by the adult learning principles. Noe (2005) provides a description of the characteristics of adult learners. Since adult learners are autonomous and self-directed, the implementation of the curriculum is done through interactive sessions that use case studies, role plays, simulations, small discussion groups, problem solving and small group reflections. The participants discuss challenges facing Michigan businesses and offer presentations on these challenges over the course of the program. Adults have vast knowledge obtained from life experiences. With this adult characteristic in mind, the training plan tries to add new knowledge to the existing one, instead replacing the prior knowledge of the participant with the new one.
Noe (2005) also points out that it is important to show respect to adult learners. The curriculum endeavors to facilitate the development of a learning community. Participants are encouraged to share knowledge and experiences, and apply them in accomplishing the given duties. Another feature of adults is that they are relevancy oriented. They should know how the program can make positive contributions to their job prospects. The program uses panelists and guest speakers who educate the participants on the importance of the BSP program. The sessions are backed with personal anecdotes from the panelists and guest speakers on how they benefited from the program and also how it enhanced their personal prospects.
Another characteristic of adults is that they are goal-oriented. They are extrinsically and intrinsically motivated. Most of the BSP facilitators are involved in the program because they believe that their contribution helps in the improvement of the economic prospects of Michigan in some way (Polzin et al, 2010 p. 4). Participants are offered problem cases on a regular basis whereby they are required to apply the BSP skills obtained from the program in solving real life problems experienced in their communities. Noe (2005) finally states that adults are utilitarian and problem centered. They may not show response to knowledge for the sake of knowledge.
The knowledge that is pursued should be a means to an end and not an end in itself. Hence, they can show positive response if they see a relationship between the skills taught and their ability in performing their duties effectively. The program therefore, uses case studies of likely problems in the field and uses BSP method to arrive at solutions. The field work also helps participants to come into contact with real business challenges. They are required to apply the BSP method for finding effective solutions.
The Michigan government has attempted to alter the workforce system from being a job seeker centered to one that is employer focused, that is, a system that is demand-driven (Michigan Industry Cluster Approach, 2012). For the transition to be achieved, the state established five economic and workforce development objectives (O’Shea, 2003, p. 62). These goals include creating a career development system that is integrated through education-industry partnerships from as low as the local level to as high as the state level, developing a career decision-making system that is effective and integrated. It prepares the youth and adults for the job market, and creates a Career Development System that is based on competency and integrates industry skill standards to academics.
The other objectives were to inform and educate the public about Michigan’s Department of Career Development System, how it is accessed and used effectively, and improving the skills of staff members in the Michigan’s Department of Career Development. This will make sure that the staff is able to provide efficient and relevant services to different kinds of clients. This approach focused on the need for collaboration between the private and public sectors. The Michigan state government created different approaches for the effective leveraging of the synergies that can be achieved from education-industry collaboration.
The MWSCs are important starting points for the initiation of collaboration between industry and job seekers. The career centers don not simply act as a bureau for assisting job seekers in getting placement in their preferred areas. They are a useful tool through which the state seeks to attain the five economic and workforce development objectives. One of the conditions for licensing MWSCs or BSP is that they must show evidence of partnership with the local employers (O’Shea, 2003). This requirement is critical in the creation of a career development system that is designed to suit the needs of local employers. The BSP offers on-site training. This is important in making sure that they are able to assist clients in making the right career choices. The BSPs provide a wide range of services and also have partnerships with various industries. This enhances the portfolio of competencies that are catered for, ensuring that more customers can be placed within the job market of the state.
One of the most effective approaches was using the cluster approach to education-industry collaboration. According to Porter (2005, p. 2), cluster refers to ‘’dense networks of interrelated companies that come up in a region as a result of powerful externalities and spillovers across organizations within a cluster.’’ Clusters can drive innovation and productivity. This is attributed to the fact that firms located within a cluster are more flexible when it comes to operation and can make transactions with each other more efficiently, share technology more readily and identify and implement innovative practices more rapidly. Clusters also have the advantage of ability to access goods and services more easily because of the concentration of the same characteristics and requirements.
It should be noted that clusters have inherent advantages that the Michigan state government emphasized on when using the cluster approach. The state identified various priority clusters that could be used as a basis for the demands-driven workforce system. The clusters identified included energy, agriculture, manufacturing, information technology, healthcare and locally identified clusters (Michigan Industry Cluster Approach, 2012). The option of locally identified clusters was to provide localities within the state with the opportunity of choosing the most relevant clusters within their locality.
The categorization of industries into clusters presents logistical advantages when it comes to training. Clusters assist in ‘’convening employers to collect in-depth information on jobs in demand, skill gaps, training requirements, employee screening factors and other related issues’’ (Michigan Industry Cluster Approach, 2012). The Michigan Works State agency is pursuing a ‘ask first, then act approach to workforce development’ (Allen, 2012). The intense focus on demand determines the supply of graduates and ensures that the workforce development system actually produces graduates that meet the needs of employers.
The industrial cluster approach can deliver several benefits to the economy. According to Porter (2005), clusters play a significant role in the creation of knowledge. They help in developing a pool of workers with specialized expertise. In a set up like this, there are higher chances of innovation. Facilitation of the industry-education collaboration therefore assists in making sure that this new knowledge is spread to students who will in-turn be prepared when they join the job market.
Clusters can also be useful in the creation of new employment opportunities. This is usually through outsourcing. Outsourcing is not only done to other business enterprises but also learning institutions (Porter, 2005). Thus, it is ideal that academia-industry collaborations are robust enough to sustain this process. The cluster approach to workforce development can significantly cut down long-term training costs. This is because this approach ensures that only the required professionals undergo training and are released into the job market. Universities are therefore likely to do away with programs which have no demand in the job market. Cases where graduates have to undergo re-training to fit into the job market will significantly go down, hence lowering the overall costs of training.
Based on the above evidence, the industrial cluster approach to workforce development does indeed offer the workers an advantage when they get into the job market. Therefore, it is important that Michigan continues with the implementation of the approach for accrued benefits. According to Stewart and Luger (2003) the best practices should be used in implementing the cluster-focused approach. Foremost, the state should come up with service delivery around clusters. There should be rapid response teams, which comprise of all the relevant agencies for addressing the concerns of the clusters. Besides, the state should also provide one-stop shops where all the needs of the clusters can be met. Secondly, it should also invest in clusters. The investments could be based on research and development, marketing clusters, building cluster markets or providing the infrastructure required by a cluster. The state should also encourage and facilitate networking and creation of links intra and inter clusters. Finally, the government should develop requisite human resource capital that can be effective in the clusters. This should be conducted in collaboration with the clusters.
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