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KALAMAZOO, Mich. - No one understands the need to build a skilled workforce and prevent "brain drain" in west Michigan better than Heather Isch, Vice President of LKF Marketing. As a senior account executive and strategist working primarily with B-to-B clients, she sees first hand every day how her manufacturing clients struggle to fill their open positions. The politicians keep telling us it's all about creating jobs, but Heather knows "that we can't create new jobs if we can't fill the positions we have today. Frankly, we need trained people first."

Toward the end of 2011, rather than invest dollars in holiday gifts for clients that would soon be consumed and forgotten, LKF set out to make a lasting difference in someone's life and benefit the economy of our region at the same time. Having heard about training programs for manufacturing positions, LKF contacted Kathy Olsen at Michigan Works! to inquire about funding a scholarship for someone to participate in the program.

According to Olsen, "LKF Marketing was the first organization locally to step up with this concept, but it was such a great idea we expanded the idea and more than ten local organizations funded scholarships".

The Production Technician Academy (PTA), offered at Kalamazoo Valley Community College and Glen Oaks Community College, was the solution born out of the Advanced Manufacturing Career Consortium, a group of 26 companies convened by Southwest Michigan First to identify solutions to employing a qualified workforce in southwest Michigan.

The PTA is a competency-based training program designed to prepare graduates for successful, long-term careers in manufacturing. The capacity of each class is 15 students who attend classes Monday through Friday for four and a half weeks. This fast track program produces entry-level employment candidates for area manufacturers.

Manufacturing continues to be a leader in providing on-the-job training, apprenticeships, and opportunities for continued education and career advancement, keeping qualified people in the area.

Three more classes will be offered before the end of 2012. Flagship companies who fund scholarships will have the opportunity to interview trainees for positions prior to graduation.

Recently, LKF representatives attended the graduation ceremony for the PTA class of August 2012. They had the opportunity to meet and greet Ryan Hunt, the scholarship recipient of the LKF contribution. Ryan has his sights set on further education and career advancement and is grateful for the opportunity provided by area organizations to strengthen southwest Michigan's workforce.

LKF Marketing is a full-service marketing communications agency located in downtown Kalamazoo. Since 1989, LKF has helped businesses and organizations achieve their marketing goals through strategic planning, results-driven creative execution, and communication tactics.