BUSINESS
07/05/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

No Worker Left Behind: How Michigan Is Trying to Help The Laid-Off

For almost a decade, Heather Vaughn worked as a spot welder at a factory in Jonesville, Mich., making auto parts for General Motors and others. In February, the plant was sold, and Vaughn, along with 300 other workers, was laid off in a phone call.

"I was kinda like, 'Huh,'" Vaughn told the Huffington Post. "I'd worked there nine years. That was my nine year anniversary."

The plant stayed open and rehired more than 100 workers, but Vaughn wasn't one them. After joining the ranks of unemployed in Michigan -- 12.7 percent of the state's workforce, the highest rate in the nation -- Vaughn is hoping a state program can train her to become an X-ray technician.

Michigan's No Worker Left Behind program provides up to two years of free tuition toward school or training for careers in certain high-demand fields. The program has put 68,785 people into training since its 2007 launch, according to Andy Levin, deputy director of the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth.

"No Worker Left Behind is going like gangbusters, and the pace of putting people into training is accelerating, but we don't have enough money to train everybody who wants to be trained," Levin told the Huffington Post.

There were 6,769 people on the program's waiting list in April, mostly concentrated in the suburbs of Detroit, according to Levin. On Tuesday he requested over $58 million in federal stimulus money to fund the program, which he said ought to become a national model.

"We have no coherent federal workforce system," Levin said. "What Michigan said is, 'So what, we're gonna have one.'"

The program ties in money from multiple federal and state funding sources and provides uniform eligibility requirements and benefits for all Michiganders. Levin said job training is a necessity for unemployed blue-collar workers.

"For most people of all different kinds, if they lose a job they are very likely to need new training to replace their standard of living," he said.

Heather Vaughn, who lives with her fiance and their two children in Jonesville, said she is currently pulling in $800 a month in unemployment benefits -- a little more than half what she earned as a spot welder. The NWLB website says there are 180 annual openings for X-ray techs in Vaughn's part of Michigan, and that the median annual salary is $46,240. Vaugh said she signed up for NWLB and plans to attend an orientation on Friday, but is worried she might still wind up on a waitlist because so many of her neighbors have also applied.

"I'm hoping I can turn around and do something different," she said.


HuffPost readers: Are you a worker who's been left behind? We want to hear your stories. Send e-mail to arthur@huffingtonpost.com.