Flint, MI—United Way of Genesee County has received a $250,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity to help address the labor shortage in Flint-area manufacturing.

“We want to see people get in the workforce, participate, be able to be successful, and not lose a job,” said Jamie Gaskin, CEO of United Way of Genesee County, on why the organization sought the grant.

Gaskin said the organization will apply the funding to build on the Workforce Development Program it announced with its partners over the summer.

Flint has a host of “industrial suppliers,” Gaskin said—companies like Landaal Packaging Systems, NorthGate, The Genesee Group, Lear, and others—that usually have over 100 employees and a lot of “churn,” or turnover, in their workforce.

“They tend to have lower starting wages,” Gaskin said of that churn. “But they’re also where a lot of people who don’t have a degree are going to go for their first place of employment, or if they’re returning to the workforce, or if they’re a returning citizen.”

Gaskin said the goal of the Workforce Development Program is to help such employees hold on to their jobs instead of falling victim to the barriers that create that churn and in turn the manufacturing field’s growing labor shortage.

But those barriers may not have to do with the job itself, he noted. They can include childcare, legal issues, or something as simple as transportation to and from the workplace.

“Their car breaks down,” said Gaskin. “Or they may not have a driver’s license. There’s just things that disrupt folks. And especially when you’re not making a high wage, it sort of throws you completely out of whack.”

Gaskin said the LEO grant will be woven in with other funding to provide local manufacturers and suppliers with on-site coaching for their employees—which will help identify employees’ barriers—as well as targeted training to upskill employees for potential wage increases and retention.

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....