LAKE COUNTY - The Going PRO Talent Fund has long been an invaluable funding source for Michigan businesses looking to upskill their existing employees or train new hires.

However, due to budget cuts in 2019, no funding was allocated for the program in the 2020 (FY) budget.

Looking toward revitalizing the successful program, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently approved the 2021 (FY) budget, which includes $28.7 million earmarked specifically for the Going PRO Talent Fund.

"The need for highly-skilled talent has never been greater in our state. The COVID-19 crisis has created an even greater need for reskilling and retraining dollars for Michiganders," said Luann Dunsford, CEO of the Michigan Works! Association. "We applaud the Michigan Legislature and the administration for their commitment to including money to the FY 2021 state budget in order to continue providing grants to Michigan businesses so they can provide critical training for both current employees and new hires."

Through the Talent Fund, employers can apply for up to $1,500 per employee in training funding assistance.

Businesses in Lake, Mason, Mecosta, Newaygo, Oceana and Osceola counties are encouraged to contact Michigan Works! West Central to apply for funding. All applications in the competitive-grant program must be submitted to the state through Michigan Works!

"The Talent Fund provides competitive awards to employers to assist in training, developing and retraining current and new employees," said Jonathan Eppley, communication and marketing manager for Michigan Works! West Central. "It helps to ensure Michigan's employers have the talent they need to compete and grow in the global economy, and ensures that individuals have the necessary skills they need for the wide variety of in-demand jobs in Michigan."

The Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) grants the funds to employers through Michigan Works! Agencies. Locally, Michigan Works! West Central's Business Services team is ready to work with employers to assess their talent skill gaps, identify training needs and assist in finding suitable training providers.

During the upcoming application period, which opens Nov. 2, Michigan Works! West Central's Business Services staff will work with employers to submit applications to LEO for approval.

Training plans approved through the Talent Fund must be short-term and fill a demonstrated talent need experienced by the employer. Training must lead to a credential for a skill that is transferable and industry recognized.

The Going PRO Talent Fund (formerly the Skilled Trades Training Fund) began in 2014. In the first six years of the program, Michigan Works! West Central has helped secure more than $2 million to train more than 2,000 workers at 50 different companies in its six-county service area.

Of those 2,000-plus workers, 57 were new U.S. Department of Labor registered apprentices.

"The Going PRO Talent Fund is one of the many tools Michigan Works! West Central has available to offer to businesses looking to train their employees," said Shelly Keene, Michigan Works! West Central executive director. "Our Business Services team is ready to meet with area employers to assess their training needs, identify training opportunities and submit a comprehensive application to the state. We applaud the governor and state Legislature for allocating money for the Talent Fund in this year's budget so that Michigan businesses can continue to provide critical training for current employees and new hires."

For more information about the Going PRO Talent Fund, eligible training and how to apply, contact Michigan Works! West Central's Business Services team today.

For businesses in Mason and Mecosta counties, contact Merri Bennett at (231) 583-2029 or mbennett@michworkswc.org; for Lake and Osceola counties, contact Mark Buss at (231) 791-7065 or mbuss@michworkswc.org; and for Newaygo and Oceana counties, contact Julie Sanders at (231) 538-0746 or jsanders@michworkswc.org.