Leading by example: Educators and employers prove engagement works

Note: This is the third in a series of posts analyzing the nine key strategies cited in our 20/20 Vision Report.


Among the hundreds of comments collected in our research for the 20/20 Vision Report issued in October, the urgency of the task ahead perhaps was best illustrated by this remark:


“If we’re all looking for someone else to solve this very serious problem, it’s not going to get solved. It’s going to take all of us working in concert, and first recognizing there’s a problem, and second, (asking) ‘what is my role in it and how can I be part of the solution?’”


This comment gets to the heart of a common theme we heard, one that has long been advocated by Talent 2025, as reflected in the third of nine strategies listed in the report:


Strategy 3: Build broad employer engagement with educators and workforce leaders.

The report, which can be read in full here, pointed out that several key stakeholders in West Michigan are already doing heavy lifting in this area. They have identified their roles in the system and decided to be part of the solution.


The good news is that these initiatives provide abundant examples for others to follow.


An employer investing in tomorrow’s talent

West Michigan employers can learn a lot from the efforts of Marne-based DeWys Manufacturing. CEO Jon DeWys is active with Talent 2025 career-readiness initiatives and is part of the executive leadership of Discover Manufacturing, a network of employers committed to addressing the talent needs of West Michigan’s manufacturing industry.


The company puts its beliefs into action through participation in career technical education and by hosting industry tours for students. DeWys leadership was instrumental in the creation of the Knights STEM Academy at Kenowa Hills Public Schools. The innovative academy promotes science, technology, engineering and math education with real-life, hands-on projects. DeWys also played a key role in the creation of Coopersville Area Schools’ Manufacturing Engineering Partnership Program, which places students at businesses to learn workplace skills and potentially earn college tuition assistance.


These examples only begin to touch on the involvement with DeWys, including partnerships with higher education across the region. For its extensive investment in community, DeWys recently was recognized by the Michigan Manufacturers Association with the 2019 MFG Community Impact Award.


More leading examples

West Michigan is fortunate to have many like-minded organizations developing innovative ways to build broad employer engagement with educators and workforce leaders. Here is just a sampling from across the 13-county region:

  • Discover Manufacturing supports the efforts of MiCareerQuest, a regional career expo, in partnership with West Michigan Works! and others, that draws thousands of students every year. The network also plays a key role in Manufacturing Month, an annual event designed to improve perceptions of manufacturing careers.
  • Employers such as Wolverine Coil Spring and Butterball Farms connect with other manufacturers to share best practices for building relationships with educators.  
  • Lakeshore Advantage, an economic development group serving Allegan and Ottawa counties, supports partnerships between schools and employers. The group uses a condensed version of the Talent 2025 Talent Assessment and Outlook reports to keep educators informed about talent and employability trends. Lakeshore Advantage also collaborated with the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District to launch a year-long dialogue between employers and educators about improving their connections.
  • The Muskegon Intermediate School District takes a progressive approach by providing career specialists who can work with students on resumes, interview skills and gaining experience in the world of work. The Muskegon Heights Public School Academy and other districts in the region are partnering with ADAC Automotive to provide employment and on-the-job training for students who are 18 and in the second semester of senior year. The Muskegon ISD teams with West Michigan Works! to support career readiness, including training in employability skills.
  • The Newaygo County Regional Educational Service Agency operates a summer internship program, partly funded by the Fremont Area Community Foundation, to connect high school and college students with paid work experiences.
  • Ludington Area Schools has launched a pilot, the Oriole Work Based Learning Academy, to mentor students who have dropped out, helping them earn their diplomas while attaining work-based skills and knowledge. The program partners with local businesses to help these students earn credit while they work. Also in Mason County, the Educational Services District is helping career-technical education students develop employability skills to establish a foundation for a successful work-based learning experience.


Becoming part of the solution

Efforts such as these are encouraging and among the reasons West Michigan is widely recognized for its talent leadership. And yet, we know work remains to take these localized innovations wider, to make them the rule in West Michigan rather than the exception.


This need was affirmed in the research for the 20/20 Vision Report, where respondents consistently called for greater collaboration and alignment between educators and employers.


We encourage all stakeholders to consider their role in this key strategy to take our talent efforts from good to great, and to identify how they can be part of the solution.


Explore the links above for inspiration and to connect with like-minded workforce leaders. And keep the conversation going. If you have additional thoughts or ideas, please share them in the comments below.


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