Michigan’s No Worker Left Behind; Lessons Learned from Big-Picture Workforce Policy Change

Publication Date: 01/31/2011

This report, written by Larry Good, cofounder and chairman of CSW, in partnership with the National Skills Coalition, explores the reasoning, process, outcomes and lessons learned by Michigan—a state that has significantly changed statewide workforce policy through their groundbreaking No Worker Left Behind (NWLB) initiative.

In slightly more than three years, the No Worker Left Behind initiative refocused state workforce policy and integrated funding streams to support training for more than 150,000 Michigan workers resulting in credentials in high-demand occupations. CSW helped to shape the initiative, launched at a time when nearly 1 million jobs disappeared from the state’s economy, offered at-risk workers a pathway to new skills, careers and family-supporting wages. NWLB reflects ambitious goals and a fundamental change in Michigan’s workforce strategy. The focus of state policy was intentionally shifted away from emphasizing short-term job search and job placement services, towards longer-term investment in training for in-demand skills and credentials. This emphasis on training versus immediate job placement, and longer-term training in particular, is evident:

  • 59 percent of Michigan WIA participants were enrolled in training, compared to 13 percent of WIA participants nationwide; and
  • 74 percent of Michigan WIA participants were enrolled in training of a year or longer, compared with just 24 percent of participants nationally.

As of December 2009, DELEG reported that 75 percent of those who had completed training had either retained or obtained a job. Of those who found a job, 82 percent reported it was related to their training. The report explores what Michigan learned as it managed NWLB, including:

  • The impact of aligning multiple funding streams around a clear policy goal;
  • Outcomes for high-barrier participants;
  • The challenge of overwhelming demand at a time of limited resources; and
  • Lessons learned and implications for other states.

While NWLB doesn’t offer an easy solution to any given state’s economic and workforce development challenges, Michigan’s experience delivers a powerful example as to how state leaders can set clear policy direction and align resources around it. NWLB offers a case study in tackling at scale the often-discussed national challenge of increasing educational attainment of those already in the workforce.