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Michigan Workers Retraining For New Careers

By CityTownInfo.com Staff
August 12, 2009

Thousands of laid-off workers in Michigan are being retrained for new careers, but experts are unsure if enough jobs exist in the state to employ them all.

The increase of unemployed workers in area classrooms was spurred by Michigan's popular No Worker Left Behind program, which provides up to two years of free tuition to the jobless at Michigan community colleges, universities and some trade schools. The program has already trained over 80,000 workers and according to the Detroit Free Press, is likely to exceed its goal of retraining 100,000 residents in three years.

Ed Wozniak is one such example. After losing his job in the automotive industry, he began classes at a Michigan university and is now an intensive care nurse who earns about $55,000 annually. Although his salary is lower than the $80,000 he earned before, he hopes to specialize and eventually receive more pay than his former salary.

"I thought it was always going to be a struggle from here on out, with people cutting back and foreign automakers coming in," he told USA Today about his decision to be retrained. "It was time to move on."

Reuters reports that according to Andy Levin, deputy director at Michigan's Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, which is in charge of the program, the majority of workers retrain for jobs in healthcare. He noted that green jobs are also popular.

Ken Stahovec, for example, lost his job as a designer and product engineer for auto suppliers and automakers, and is now working towards an associate degree in renewable energy technology.

"Whenever a green job is posted, a zillion people go after it," he said."Competition will be fierce, but I just have to keep plugging away at it."

Yet it is not clear how many retrained workers will actually find jobs. "As the unemployment rate has risen, that has given us fewer opportunities to place people in jobs," said Douglas Stites, head of Capital Area Michigan Works in Lansing, which provides job training. He told Reuters that inevitably, "we're going to be training people to wait for demand to come back. We've either crossed that line, or we're crossing it now."

Officials agree that the numbers of people being retrained is daunting. "As of last November, we've had three times the usual number of people visiting our offices," noted John Bierbusse, executive director of Michigan Works for Macomb and St. Clair Counties, who was quoted by Reuters. "Demand is so high we have a two-month backlog."

But for many unemployed workers, few options exist other than retraining. "I don't think most people who lose their jobs today can go out and replace their income without some training," noted Levin, who was quoted in the Detroit Free Press.

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