Talent Show: Oakland County Focuses on Training Youth for Careers Close to Home

LTU’s Robofest
LTU’s Robofest offers opportunities to build autonomous robots. Photo courtesy of LTU

Oakland County companies depend on a strong, well-trained workforce. That’s why the county takes an active role in developing talent at an early age.

“The good news is the unemployment rate in Oakland County is right around 3.5 percent. The bad news is the unemployment rate in Oakland County is right around 3.5 percent,” says Jennifer Llewellyn, manager of Oakland County’s Workforce Development Division. “Everyone has to be a little more innovative as to how they approach their workforce.”

Not only are employers upping the ante when it comes to branding through social media, Llewellyn says, but they’re participating in real-world events that show kids the wide array of job opportunities close to home.

“Everyone’s digging deeper into the younger generation to start the conversation about careers and workforce and what that means,” she says. “There are a lot of really neat initiatives to reach kids and keep them here in Oakland County and help support our businesses.”

For the first time last year, MiCareerQuest Southeast brought 8,000 high schoolers from throughout the region to Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi for a hands-on career fair. Companies like Beaumont Hospital, Consumers Energy and DTE Energy staged interactive exhibits that let kids touch, feel and work with equipment, tools and technology.

“It’s an opportunity for students to learn about jobs they didn’t even know existed,” Llewellyn says.

Oakland County Manufacturing Day, held the first Friday of October, shows young people the reality of modern advanced manufacturing. About 1,000 students from 17 school districts plus Oakland Schools Technical Campuses were expected to visit more than 50 companies during the 2019 initiative.

“Their parents have this perception that manufacturing is dirty, old or antiquated, but they get into these facilities and see it’s clean, it’s energized, and there is a whole variety of careers and jobs available,” Llewellyn says.

For two decades, Lawrence Technological University has hosted Robofest, a youth robotics competition. In 2019, more than 260 teams from numerous states and 14 countries participated.

Oakland County has also partnered with Oakland Community College to train professionals in various careers in advanced manufacturing using a $775,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor in participation with the Workforce Intelligence Network.

The goal of the grant is to expand the talent pool of robotics and automotive professionals in the region.

To date, the program has trained 100 individuals with an 80 percent job placement rate and wages starting at $17 per hour. And while the county partners with the many colleges and universities within its borders, it also gives students a head start on job training through its Oakland Schools Technical Campuses.

The network of free high schools focuses on internships and real-world career training in fields such as construction, engineering and health care. Students graduate with industry certifications, on-the-job experience, business connections and college credits.

Says Llewellyn, “We’re all on the same page that we have to work together with the younger generation to get that training started earlier in life.”

This article originally appeared in the 2020 edition of Oakland County Prosper magazine.