Flint, MI—Mayor Sheldon Neeley recently announced a new Workforce Development Program to “eliminate employment barriers” for the city’s workers.

The program will be administered by the United Way of Genesee County and is funded by a $100,000 grant from the Kellogg Foundation. It includes the potential of financial support for Flint’s employees alongside an array of what Khalfani Stephens, the city’s Director of Economic Development, called “wrap-around services.”

The program’s financial support may be as simple as helping someone pay to get their car fixed, said Jamie Gaskin, CEO of United Way of Genesee County. “It’s being able to get back and forth to work,” he said.

But Gaskin and other speakers also acknowledged that transportation was certainly not the only issue facing Flint’s current or would-be workforce.

“We know that in some instances, the barrier that might prevent someone from getting the job that they want—or from advancing in the career that they currently have—might be an additional skill set, or an additional credential,” said Robert Matthews, Associate Vice President for Workforce & Economic Development at Mott Community College, which is partnering with the new program.

Another element of the Workforce Development Program includes connecting current workers with success coaches at GST Michigan Works!, an agency that helps employers find talent and helps job seekers “prepare for, find and retain employment” according to their webpage.

At the July 28 press conference announcing the program, Tonya Rak, one of the GST Michigan Works! coaches, thanked the employers who trusted her and other coaches with their employees as part of the new program. Rak also thanked the employees themselves who have trusted her and the other coaches and “come to us with their deepest, darkest problems” as part of the program.

Gaskin said the success coaches were one of the Workforce Development Program’s greatest assets, as they were the ones developing trust between employers and employees and helping connect everyone to needed resources. 

“They’re familiar with MDHHS and navigating the health systems there. They’re familiar with the local environment of: ‘What agency does this?’ or ‘How can I do this?’” Gaskin said. “I mean, if you’re helping employees, or you’re creating a work environment where people feel more welcome and problems that they might have the employer wants to find creative solutions to: they’re more likely to stay at that employer.”

Gaskin estimated about 10 businesses are participating so far.

The Workforce Development Program criteria include a requirement that potential or current employees live in Flint, potential or current employers are Flint-based, and that a potential or current job pays (or stands to pay) $13/hour or more.

Further information on eligibility is available through the United Way of Genesee County.

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....