Higher Education and Local Businesses Work Together

A shortage storm is coming! A shortage of skilled trade workers, that is. In a state like Michigan, this crisis has come to head and companies have had to start thinking creatively about addressing the decline. Two factors have really fueled this shortage storm.

  • The first is an aging workforce. Baby boomers, the second largest generation in the United States at around 75 million members, are retiring and moving out of the workforce. This will likely leave an estimated 31 million vacant positions by the year 2020. Among these vacated positions will be electricians, pipe layers, plumbers, pipefitters, steamfitters, machinists, heating and cooling trades.
  • The second is that younger generations are not going into these “dirty” trades. Traditional blue-collar jobs are being swept aside as parents and high school counselors guide students into four-year colleges. This has shifted a whole generation from the skilled trades to other jobs.

Innovative organizations understand that something needs to change to attract more students into these fields. In West Michigan, local businesses are looking for help from their local higher education partners. In this blog we’ll discuss three instances of public/private partnerships and how they’re helping combat the talent shortage.

A Creative Solution to a Universal Problem: Lake Michigan College’s Hanson Technology Center


Lake Michigan College (LMC) in Benton Harbor, MI, knew there was a need to enroll more students in their advanced manufacturing programs. Approached by local business looking to fill skilled jobs, the opportunity to partner with local businessman Merlin Hanson was presented.

Hanson had grown his small tool and die shop of three employees into a highly successful company. More than most, he understood that the days of dark, routine-based industrial jobs were numbered. Automation and advances in technology had altered or replaced these jobs. Rather, the future was leaning towards specialized technical workers who craved well-lit, clean, and high-tech spaces. He brought this vision to LMC, an institute he had long supported. The college’s existing M-TEC building was in a remote part of the Benton Harbor campus. The building was old and dark. Instead of speaking to the future of advanced manufacturing, it represented its past.

An increase in student enrollment.

Since the grand opening in 2016, the Hanson Technology Center has made a significant impact on the school and program by providing open, inviting and clean learning spaces that reflect the latest thinking in manufacturing techniques. The school initially experienced a 36% increase in course registrations compared the previous year. In year two, Lake Michigan College saw a 51% increase in student enrollment in their advanced manufacturing programs. This was in part due to the ability to offer new classes.

The fab lab, which is available for use to the local community, has experience more than 4,000 unique visitors. Additionally, it has been a tour highlight for more than 1,700 local high school juniors and seniors visiting the Hanson Technology Center as they consider their next steps in higher education.

Learn more about Hanson Technology Center.

A Degree, A Job and No Debt – Higher Education and Local Businesses Partner in Grand Rapids

A degree, a job, and no debt? Sounds like a pretty good gig, right? That’s the thought behind a brand-new project opening just north of the Hanson Technology Center in Grand Rapids, MI. A partnership between public and private institutions, the project is known as the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP) Lab.

The brainchild of Western Michigan University (WMU), Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC), the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and area businesses, the AMP Lab’s existence was fueled by a severe shortage of local skilled trade talent. As part of the agreement, local companies offer tuition-free educational opportunities to GRCC and WMU students who participate in the program. In return, students work at the sponsor facility while earning credit towards a certificate, associate’s or bachelor’s degree in their preferred subject. It’s a win, win, win.

Funds were granted for machinery from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. A unique feature of the program was to shift away from the traditional academic semester calendar and allow students to join the program anytime. This lowers the threshold to learning even further.

The program is housed in a renovated historic building in downtown Grand Rapids. A visual connection with the city, a feel of a professional design studio, and ample opportunities for collaboration and engagement fueled the design of this unique project.

Learn more about the AMP Lab.

Where Passion Meets Practice – New Opportunities at Western Michigan University

The stories of public/private partnerships looking for ways to attract new students into technical fields continue with another recent program. Partnering with local businesses, Western Michigan University recently created the Product Design and Innovation (PD+I) program, the first of its kind at the university. The program is part of the school’s Frostic School of Art.

The program is housed on the Kalamazoo campus of Western Michigan University within two floors of an existing building. The building’s renovation accommodated the needs of the new program. Larger classrooms, labs and design studios are located to the lower level along with a large reception area, a gallery for project display and review sessions with outside organizations.

The student-centric third floor is organized into three design studios with a variety of furnishing to foster collaboration. Long design benches echo the type of environment a student might find in the real-world. At the center of the studio space sits a large classroom that is used by each cohort. Faculty offices are also located on this floor. This gives students immediate access to faculty and helps foster mentorship-like relationships.

Learn more about Kohrman Hall.

The ideals embraced in each of these three projects suggest that the answer to the skilled labor storm lies in a creative partnership between higher education, local industry, businesses and governments to help attract and showcase the opportunities that will soon be abundantly available.