Posted by John Ester on Jan 22, 2019
Today we heard from Northwest Michigan Works! staff members (from the left) Susan Ward, Shelly VanderMeulen, Sharon Laraway Gordon, Sue Oseland and Mary Szwed.
Mary Szwed provided an overview of the organization's program. Northwest Michigan Works! is a non-profit operating in a ten-county area--one of 16 independent Michigan Works! agencies across the state. The organization provides comprehensive job search assistance that connects job seekers with employers. It also provides training to develop a qualified work force. A  list of the group's services can be found on the agency's website. Among the places where the agency offers services is BACN in Benzonia. 
Sharon Laraway Gordon is the Liaison for Business Services for Benzie and Manistee Counties, dealing with everything from hiring to retention and closures. She is at BACN every week to help connect employers with job seekers.   In the summer it is difficult to find enough job seekers to meet the employers' needs. Issues such as the housing shortage and the need for affordable child care complicate matters.
Susan Ward talked about apprenticeships--the "Earn & Learn" model. She explained that businesses drive the apprenticeship program. Once they  are registered with the Department of Labor, they become eligible for Department funding. A participant who completes the on-the-job training and related class work obtains a nationally recognized credential as a winemaker, jeweler, carpenter, beekeeper or whatever his or her particular craft may be.
Sue Oseland is an adult education instructor who runs the GED program at BACN. She described the challenges facing GED applicants. They are required to attend training sessions at BACN two days a week--in some cases despite having full-time employment or young children at home. This requires a significant commitment on the part of the student as well as much patience and encouragement from the teacher. Sue praised the START program sponsored by the Advocates for Benzie County and supported by the Sunrise Rotary Foundation.
Shelly VanderMeulen is the Facilitator for the Career Exploration and Educated Development Plan Project. She explained how changes in the economy and technology have changed the world of employment. Unlike the old days when  a person could work for one to three employers in a lifetime, students today can look forward to perhaps 16-17 jobs in 4-5 different industries. Thus it is necessary to prepare kids to keep on learning--no small task. In terms of eventual employment, the emphasis is on finding the right career path for students--urging them to find a job at which they will excel rather than pushing them to a four-year college where they will accumulate a large debt, often without the likelihood of graduation or employment.