Michigan manufacturing workers re-educate for health careers

Grand Rapids, Mich. skyline

TEXT OF STORY

Steve Chiotakis: For anyone, changing jobs can be a challenge. How about changing careers? City officials in Grand Rapids, Mich., hope a growing health and life science industry will replace a manufacturing economy that's been decimated. In the second of a two-part series, reporter Jay Field explains how workers there are facing a tough transition.


Jay Field: Bill VanOrden started a new job this week. He's a nurse, and it's nothing like his old job.

I was a tool and dye journeyman.

VanOrden, who's 39, worked at an automotive plant for 13 years.

It stamped Ford F150 bumpers and then also bumpers for GM.

When he got laid off two years ago, VanOrden decided there was no longer a future in manufacturing work. He went back to school and got a taste of nursing in an exploratory course. He learned health care was one of the few growing industries in Michigan and enrolled in a full-time program. VanOrden says he had a lot to learn.

I was used to not really working with people. You worked on something with tools. There was no real worry about how someone was feeling.

This lack people skills is just one of the deficits educators are trying to address, as more people look to transition from manufacturing to jobs in Grand Rapids growing health and life sciences sector.

You might need to do some major re-education of yourself. If you haven't been in school in 20 years, there's a lot you need to be brought up to speed on, especially computers and technology.

Julie Parks heads up workforce training at Grand Rapids Community College. She says medical courses are hot right now.

There's been a huge growth over the last three years. Medical assistant is the next really big program, along with home health aides, which will start probably in January, based on the need from our long-term care facilities.

Bill VanOrden says his year-long course, at another nearby school, was intense. He had to bone up on math and measurement skills and master a computerized patient record system. And as he learned to give patients their
medications and take vital signs, VanOrden says he learned something about himself.

I really enjoy working with people. Just seeing their face when you make a connection with a patient. It's just real good experience.

After a few more days of orientation, VanOrden will begin work as a nurse at an urgent care facility.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, I'm Jay Field for Marketplace.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...