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The most powerful recent innovation in government is when states aggressively use community colleges for retraining. In Michigan, where large numbers of workers were displaced from the manufacturing industry, we created a wildly successful program: No Worker Left Behind. NWLB’s unique configuration resulted in worker placement at four times the national average. We received federal waivers to reconfigure our workforce training dollars and used the business community to identify specific skills needs. The first 100,000 unemployed workers who enrolled received two years’ tuition at their community college or approved training school—$5,000 per year. The catch: They had to agree to be trained in an area of need. Steering people into specific training while they collected unemployment benefits allowed them to feed their families while achieving advanced skills for specific jobs. Eighty percent of those employed after training were employed in their degree field. Our goal was to enroll 100,000 people; in 18 months more than 150,000 people enrolled, with thousands more on the wait list. Bottom line: Specific, relevant training allowed us to give skills and dignity to a generation of displaced adults.
Jennifer Granholm, the former Democratic governor of Michigan, now hosts Current TV’s The War Room with Jennifer Granholm.