Vouchers Improve Employability in Michigan

Published May 1, 2003

Michigan doesn’t have publicly funded vouchers to help children get a better K-12 education–which in turn would make them more employable–but since 1996 the Thumb Area Michigan Works! agency has been offering publicly funded vouchers to out-of-work adults in Huron, Tuscola, Sanilac, and Lapeer counties to help them improve their employability.

According to a recent story in The Huron Daily Tribune, the agency not only provides employment services for employers and prospective employees, but also provides job training opportunities to individuals who wish to strengthen their skills and enhance their employability. Initially, the agency focused on helping people with on-the-job training, classroom training, and adult work experience.

In 1996, the agency’s executive director, Marv Pichla, initiated a voucher program called the Tool Chest System to encourage and empower the agency’s clients to make their own decisions about their individual employment goals. The vouchers, which range in value from $500 to $2,500, may be used for a range of aids to secure full-time employment, such as GED preparation and testing, computer training classes, purchasing necessary tools and clothing, and certification programs.

“It’s a voucher program that provides scholarship funds for those looking to better themselves,” Pichla told Huron Daily Tribune reporter Traci Anderson. “The people who participate in the program decide how to use that money, whether it be on classes, training, career counseling, and other job-related tools. Each person can choose which tools they will need to increase their employability and strengthen their skills.”

Vouchers Are Everywhere
“[F]ood stamps are vouchers. Medicare is essentially a voucher program. There are many ways that vouchers play roles in our lives. There is a program for low-income child care where they can get child care vouchers and go to, say, a Catholic day-care program if they want. Pell grants—that’s a voucher program. They can take it to any school they want, right? And it doesn’t seem to have sunk in … that all these things are voucher programs.”
Terry M. Moe discussing
Schools, Vouchers and the American Public
The Brookings Institution, June 7, 2001

Some 2,700 individuals enroll in the Tool Chest System each year, according to Pichla, with about 60 percent of them finding jobs in the area in which they trained.

The agency’s Web site, http://www.thumbworks.org, notes that the flexibility provided by the Tool Chest System “may create apprehension and hesitancy” among some clients/customers since they may be “unaccustomed to a public/human service system which allows them greater freedoms of choice in designing their future.”