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Celebrating our (Job) Success

Get out your party horns – there was some positive news about Michigan employment this week. Two good things: Our state jobless rate dropped, which means unemployment may be stabilizing. And General Motors showed up at a job fair.

So where is the parade down Main Street? Where are the Excitable Talking Heads on cable television? Let's get a brouhaha brewing.

Yes, the unemployment rate is still a lousy 14.3 percent (the rest of the nation comes in at 9.7 percent in the latest data available.) And I know we're still the highest jobless rate in the nation. But you've got to appreciate job growth, no matter how small. Baby steps, remember?

As for GM, representatives showed up Monday at the Engineering Society of Detroit's spring job fair to fill some 40 spots on its product development side. It's true – the car companies are hiring.

“These are hiring managers,” said James Bailey, a senior human resources representative, gesturing to the GM employees manning the tables. “This is not a dog-and-pony show. This is the real deal.”

When you live in Michigan, you get giddy over certain things: sunshine, UM-MSU football and jobs.

Best coverage of the whole thing came from my old boss Brian O'Connor at The Detroit News, who summed it up pretty well here:

While the January increase barely makes a dent in the years of accumulated job losses for the state, it does reverse -- for at least one month -- the trend of month-to-month erosion in the number of Michigan residents getting a paycheck.

"It's small on a percentage basis, but the slight drop in the unemployment rate was due to the small gain in the number of people employed and the small drop in the number of unemployed," said Bruce Weaver, an economic analyst with Michigan's department of labor.

According to Michigan's Department of Labor, two areas continue to show growth in total jobs over the past year: the educational and health-services sectors.

This is where I'd like to highlight another great thing for Michigan – stable businesses doing what they can to create new jobs. There's Goodwill, which we heard about Monday (of course you read it, you slavishly devoted Blog reader). Then there's Henry Ford Health System, which created a nursing recruitment program for displaced auto employees.

Sure, GM is hiring. But that doesn't necessarily make up for everyone who lost a job over the past five years. That's where Henry Ford comes in. The program, which has 51 members, is helping former line workers and the like get nursing degrees.

Originally, Henry Ford developed the program in partnership with Oakland University to assist those seeking a career change (many prospective students had been offered educational buy-outs at that time) and to address the nursing shortage. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that more than 1 million new and replacement nurses will be needed by 2012.

Oakland University offered places for up to 100 displaced auto workers to qualify for a pre-nursing program. Those who completed the prerequisites and who met the grade requirements then started the first nursing class in September 2008.

Students move through the year-round program as a group and are scheduled to graduate in August 2010. Upon graduation, students will have a bachelor's degree in nursing.

This is not a program for pushovers. They work non-stop save for a three-week break between semesters, explained program head Mary Kravutske, administrator for nursing development and research. Students come from all over the area – Downriver to Detroit to Port Huron.

“Everyone in our (health system) has someone who has been impacted by the layoffs in the auto industry,” Kravutske said. (As an aside, they too are suffering as people lose their health insurance and forgo elective procedures. But the program presses on.)

The students participate in classroom work and clinical training (outpatient and inpatient) at a Henry Ford medical site. “They love having the interaction in the job,” Kravutske said, unlike when they worked on the line with little to no social interaction.

So participants like Colleen Harding, 40, went from installing tail lights on Ford SUVs for nearly 11 years. Now, she's in a classroom, hanging out with patients, trying on many different hats until she finds the right one.

Single parents like Harding and others support one another, Kravutske said. “There's a lot of pressure to be successful,” she noted.

I'd agree to that. There's a lot of pressure to get some success under our collective belts. Let's wallow in a little happy job-related news.

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