Coalition of Greater Greenville presentation focused on improving soft, hard skills of unemployed

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 9:58 am on Friday, October 18, 2013

Business Services Manager for Central Area Michigan Works Consortium Kathy Jo VanderLaan, left, and Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center-West Regional Director William Small, speak about trying to improve the “soft skill” sets of the local unemployed during Thursday’s Coalition of Greater Greenville meeting at the Greenville Public Schools Central Services Building in Greenville.


GREENVILLE — Members of the Coalition of Greater Greenville (COGG) received a presentation Thursday on how Michigan Works is focusing on improving the soft and hard skill sets of the local unemployed with a goal to get them back into the work force.

During Thursday’s COGG meeting at the Greenville Public Schools Central Services building, Business Services Manager for Central Area Michigan Works Consortium Kathy Jo VanderLaan said the biggest problem facing unemployed people in the area is getting unemployed people to properly showcase their talent.

“What we’re trying to get at is the topic that is hot everywhere throughout the state, and that is talent,” VanderLaan said. “Talent is something that is defined differently by different people but ultimately I think what the employer is looking for is somebody who will come to work and have skills and have the ability to learn skills on the job.”

VanderLaan said one of the biggest hindrances in properly displaying one’s talents and skills is a lack of a “soft skill” set.

“Folks lack soft skills,” she said. “That means people aren’t showing up for work, not showing up on time, or talking on their cell phone while they are working.”

A promotional video featuring local graphite machining company Mersen is shown at Thursday’s Coalition of Greater Greenville meeting at the Greenville Public Schools Central Services Building in Greenville.

VanderLaan said she doesn’t believe her organization, parents or educators are doing enough to sent the message to both kids and adults that it’s not OK to ignore the soft skill set.

“What I’m here to tell you is, I don’t think we’ve been saying this to our kids and our adults,” she said. “We’ve been playing nice for too long. We have to start being bold in order to get out of this slump we are in.”

VanderLaan said she believes that, with a push in the right direction, many unemployed members of the community can find work because there is work to be found.

“Businesses like Federal Mogul have great talent needs,” she said. “They also have a great number of people retiring over the next couple of years and we have to fill that pipeline.

The fact of the matter is there are good great-paying jobs available in manufacturing. They require skill sets and there are opportunities for advancements.”
VanderLaan pointed to the recent “Five Day Path to Employment” program, which was implemented at Montcalm Community College in cooperation with Michigan Works, as a story of success in building the soft skill sets in unemployed residents who soon found work.

“We had discussions with local employers and were told that we need to step up, we need to train these folks,” she said. “During the five days, these people begin to start showing up on time and work on their other soft skills.”

VanderLaan said of the 17 people who showed up for the program, nine of them found work by the time the course concluded.

“By the end of the week they were dressing differently and had a different attitude,” she said.

VanderLaan said the program is currently focusing on manufacturing jobs, but is hoping it soon expands into heath care.

Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce Co-Director Candy Kerschen said she believes there is an unfair stigma related to manufacturing jobs in the Greenville community due to the exit of Electrolux Inc. in 2006, when 3,000 manufacturing jobs were lost.

“Manufacturers are trying to figure what to do locally to overcome the stigma that is attached to manufacturing, that there’s no upward mobility and that the jobs are leaving,” she said. “There’s not a lot to fill the gap for when people retire. How can we reach our youth and give them a more real impression of what happens inside those doors?”
According to Kerschen, one way that the chamber is working to inform the use is through the use of several videos, which will are being planned to be shown at the elementary, high school and college level.

“It’s going to help connect those kids that love playing in the dirt, working with Legos and erector sets, to something where they could work with their hands their entire life,” she said. “These videos will be looped and playing in break areas. We’re not recruiting for any one company, we’re just trying to get kids thinking about manufacturing through a different set of glasses.”

Kerschen said the next step would be to introduce the local manufacturers to the students directly.

“The next step would be to bring these manufacturers into the school and let the students get hands on,” she said. “There are opportunities for them here in Greenville.”

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