Workforce Development Agencies Leverage Emerging Technology Training to Support Equitable Economic Recovery

Southwest Michigan – Michigan Works! Southwest announced earlier this week it is opening enrollment in three free job skill training programs. The programs are part of The Future of Work Grand Challenge, a $6 million national initiative designed to put more than 25,000 individuals (5,000 in Michigan) impacted by COVID-19 layoffs and closures back to work in the next 24 months using emerging technologies. The training programs will begin in May and can be completed in 90 days or less. To be eligible to participate, individuals must be currently unemployed or underemployed, have access to the internet and a computer or smartphone, and not have earned a college degree.

The Future of Work Grand Challenge was launched in June 2020 through a groundbreaking collaboration between leading social impact organizations New Profit, JFF in Boston, XPRIZE in Culver City, California; and MIT Solve in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The challenge identifies and funds the most promising solutions to support a more equitable economic recovery and better meet the needs of low-income, middle-skill and underserved workers at the local level.

In December 2020, West Michigan Works! and partners Michigan Works! Southwest and Michigan Works! Berrien-Cass-Van Buren were selected to participate in The Future of Work Grand Challenge.

“We are honored to have been selected to participate in the Future of Work Grand Challenge. The short-term trainings available through this project will provide skills and support individuals need to find employment in a high-demand job,” said Ben Damerow, Director of Michigan Works! Southwest.

Training programs include rapid re-skilling for computer numerically controlled (CNC) machinists, customer service training and support for aspiring entrepreneurs or small business owners.

With nearly 3,000 Michigan openings each year, machinists are in high demand. The average wage for machinists in Michigan is $41,930. The skills learned in this training can be used in other occupations including industrial machinery mechanics, machinery assemblers and fabricators, tool and die makers, and several manufacturing apprenticeship programs. The 90-day CNC machinists training combines online learning with nine sessions of mixed reality training completed at a Michigan Works! Southwest service center.

Sales and customer service skills are used in many industries including health care, hospitality and banking. In Michigan, the average wage for sales and customer service jobs is $19.71 per hour. The 90-day training includes real-world team projects and feedback from a skills coach to develop the proficiencies needed to succeed at a job in sales or customer service.

Individuals who complete the CNC machinist or customer service training will be connected with employers who have expressed interest in hiring participants from this program.

“We are excited by this opportunity to provide the people of Michigan with a new way of developing the skills they need to jumpstart a career in sales or customer service,” said Prue Clifford, vice president partnerships – North America, Practera. “We passionately believe that everyone, regardless of their age or background, should be able to access education and training that develops the skills they need to not just get a job but to succeed.”

For individuals facing significant obstacles to traditional employment, entrepreneurship may offer an alternative path to generating income. The pilot training will emphasize impacting marginalized communities facing significant obstacles to traditional employment. The entrepreneurship training consists of a facilitated online workshop and basic training program. Participants will gain knowledge of business concepts, create a business plan and budget, connect with microlenders and other small business support resources and develop important soft skills such as critical thinking and decision-making.

Individuals who are interested in learning more about any of the trainings or applying can visit

Workforce development agencies