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Key Conversation with LEO Director Jeff Donofrio

This article appeared in the September 2019 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.

Q: As the director of the newly created Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, please share your vision of the coming months and years with manufacturers.

Donofrio: Thank you, I’m excited to have this opportunity to serve the people of Michigan and join Governor Whitmer’s cabinet. Over my almost 20-year career, I’ve focused on advancing economic prosperity for Michiganders both in the State and in Washington, D.C. Working for people like Congressman John Dingell and for companies like Ford gave me a unique view into the needs of residents, communities and businesses, particularly manufacturing.

For the last four years as head of workforce development in the City of Detroit, a key focus was meeting the talent needs of manufacturers by developing training programs for companies like Flex-N-Gate and FCA, revitalizing high school and adult career technical education programs and putting supports like business resource networks in place for those employed in manufacturing.

With the launch of LEO, we’ll be working to drive collaboration on workforce, community and economic development to help expand opportunity and prosperity for businesses and people. I look forward to working with manufacturers and other stakeholders to understand the opportunities to make that possible.

Q: What talent policies and programs can we expect through the newly formed LEO?

Donofrio: Earlier this year, Governor Whitmer set a goal to increase the number of Michigan residents ages 25-64 with a degree or industry-recognized certificate to 60 percent by 2030. To get there, the Governor proposed Michigan Reconnect and MI Opportunity programs that provide a debt-free path to community college or two years at a university, ultimately preparing students and job seekers with the training they need to increase their earning potential and quality of life by closing the talent gap Michigan residents and companies face.

In addition, the Department will look to address awareness, skills and supports through efforts like the recently launched Going PRO campaign — challenging old misconceptions head-on, and making sure everyone understands the great careers that can be obtained, today, with a post-high school certificate or degree. We’ll also continue to address the skills gap through programs like the Going PRO Talent Fund, apprenticeships and MAT², each working to align resources for employers, students and job seekers with the tools they need to attract, train and retain their skilled workforce.

Finally, we’ll continue to help empower local Michigan Works! Agencies to help serve manufacturers by providing support services that remove barriers to employment for jobseekers and programs like business resource networks that help those employed stay employed.

Q: What is the future of the Going PRO Talent Fund?

Donofrio: The Going PRO Talent Fund has been an important tool in addressing the state’s skills gap. The program — which provides funds to train new hires and upskill existing employees to meet employer needs — is supported by Governor Whitmer’s budget proposal as a key pathway to reach education attainment goals. While we appreciate both the House and the Senate signaling their support for the program so far through the Fiscal Year 2020 budget process, we hope the legislature will work swiftly to pass a balanced budget that provides long-term, permanent funding for this vital program.

Q: What other changes should manufacturers expect under the Department’s new structure?

Donofrio: LEO will focus on greater collaboration with stakeholders and taking a deeper dive into data that supports our programs and services. To succeed, we need to understand the challenges and opportunities you face in operating and growing your business. I look forward to partnering with the manufacturing community to build strong relationships that allow us to expand economic opportunity for all.

This article appeared in the September 2019 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.

Q: As the director of the newly created Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, please share your vision of the coming months and years with manufacturers.

Donofrio: Thank you, I’m excited to have this opportunity to serve the people of Michigan and join Governor Whitmer’s cabinet. Over my almost 20-year career, I’ve focused on advancing economic prosperity for Michiganders both in the State and in Washington, D.C. Working for people like Congressman John Dingell and for companies like Ford gave me a unique view into the needs of residents, communities and businesses, particularly manufacturing.

For the last four years as head of workforce development in the City of Detroit, a key focus was meeting the talent needs of manufacturers by developing training programs for companies like Flex-N-Gate and FCA, revitalizing high school and adult career technical education programs and putting supports like business resource networks in place for those employed in manufacturing.

With the launch of LEO, we’ll be working to drive collaboration on workforce, community and economic development to help expand opportunity and prosperity for businesses and people. I look forward to working with manufacturers and other stakeholders to understand the opportunities to make that possible.

Q: What talent policies and programs can we expect through the newly formed LEO?

Donofrio: Earlier this year, Governor Whitmer set a goal to increase the number of Michigan residents ages 25-64 with a degree or industry-recognized certificate to 60 percent by 2030. To get there, the Governor proposed Michigan Reconnect and MI Opportunity programs that provide a debt-free path to community college or two years at a university, ultimately preparing students and job seekers with the training they need to increase their earning potential and quality of life by closing the talent gap Michigan residents and companies face.

In addition, the Department will look to address awareness, skills and supports through efforts like the recently launched Going PRO campaign — challenging old misconceptions head-on, and making sure everyone understands the great careers that can be obtained, today, with a post-high school certificate or degree. We’ll also continue to address the skills gap through programs like the Going PRO Talent Fund, apprenticeships and MAT², each working to align resources for employers, students and job seekers with the tools they need to attract, train and retain their skilled workforce.

Finally, we’ll continue to help empower local Michigan Works! Agencies to help serve manufacturers by providing support services that remove barriers to employment for jobseekers and programs like business resource networks that help those employed stay employed.

Q: What is the future of the Going PRO Talent Fund?

Donofrio: The Going PRO Talent Fund has been an important tool in addressing the state’s skills gap. The program — which provides funds to train new hires and upskill existing employees to meet employer needs — is supported by Governor Whitmer’s budget proposal as a key pathway to reach education attainment goals. While we appreciate both the House and the Senate signaling their support for the program so far through the Fiscal Year 2020 budget process, we hope the legislature will work swiftly to pass a balanced budget that provides long-term, permanent funding for this vital program.

Q: What other changes should manufacturers expect under the Department’s new structure?

Donofrio: LEO will focus on greater collaboration with stakeholders and taking a deeper dive into data that supports our programs and services. To succeed, we need to understand the challenges and opportunities you face in operating and growing your business. I look forward to partnering with the manufacturing community to build strong relationships that allow us to expand economic opportunity for all.

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