'Michigan Reconnect Grant Program' seeks to fill skills gap in the state

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FLINT, Michigan (WJRT) - (02/05/2019) - The Governor unveiled her $60 billion dollar spending plan on Tuesday.

Among her priorities, education, which includes closing the state's skills gap.

The 'Michigan Reconnect Program' targets students 25-years of age and older who are high school graduates.

Monday night we met with an aspiring welder studying at Mott Community College.

Her skills are so in demand, she already has a job lined up even while she's still in school.

Sarah DeWaelsche can be found grinding steel in the welding lab at Mott Community College, learning new skills after she gets off work at her full time job.

DeWaelsche, who is pursing a certificate in welding, already has a job offer:

"The trades are kind of a jackpot," she noted, "I'm really super excited to get into welding."

There are lucrative jobs to be had in the skilled trades industry, with not enough workers to fill them:

"We need to have programs and individuals trained for today's jobs," said Jason Wilson, the Vice President of Student Success Services at Mott Community College, "I do think Michigan is on the cutting edge with this kind of investment."

The Governor's budget calls for funding the 'Michigan Reconnect Grant Program' to the tune of $110 million dollars.

The program would help pay for training for non-traditional students who want to earn a certificate in the skilled trades or an associate degree.

In order to be eligible you must meet the following criteria:

*Age 25 or older
*High school graduate or equivalent
*Michigan resident for at least one year

The program would cover tuition costs after all other financial aid is applied. Students who do not qualify for Pell Grants would be eligible for some tuition assistance.

More than half of the funding for the program would come from unspent funds designated for the Marshall Plan, and re-purposed for this program.

The remaining $50 million dollars would come from the general fund, and be deposited into the Talent Investment Fund in FY 2019 to cover the remaining amount.

This is projected to cover the costs of the program through FY 2021.

"We want to make sure that, and so does she,that we're not running a budget on a shell game," said Republican State Senator Ken Horn,"that we're not just trading dollars, I want to make sure this is for real."

Senator Horn said he's also concerned about plans to cut the "Going Pro Skilled Trades Fund" by $2 million dollars.

"$29 million dollars is still not enough money, and she's recommending it cut in this budget," he said." We have to study that as well, how it interacts with the Reconnect program."

Senator Horn said even if Michigan were able to keep every high school and college graduate, it wouldn't be enough to fill the talent gap.

He said we need to bring people with talent into the state. To do so requires vibrant, energetic communities. He said downtown Flint needs to grow and attract young millennials.