Providing resources for communities and entrepreneurs to create and retain jobs in Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan & Emmet Counties.

Attracting and Developing Talent with MI STEM Forward

by Sam Bailey, NLEA Strategic Initiatives Manager

Across the state, businesses are facing talent challenges, causing many to look for new avenues to reach the workforce they need. Internships have emerged as a tool for companies to gain capacity with the potential to transition that intern into a full-time role upon completion. MI STEM Forward has emerged to support this movement to connect college students with positions in the STEM fields. Marketing Technologies Inc (MTI), a technology-based visual merchandising company in Charlevoix, recently leveraged MI STEM Forward to recruit and hire a software developer.

STEM Forward for Recruitment, Admin, and Financial Support

Like many employers in the technology space, Mike Stemo of MTI was struggling to find and hire the talent he needed, especially for software developers; “…the talent pool is typically associated with well-paid positions on the ‘coasts’ as Northern Michigan is still in a fledgling stage developing technology talent.” Enter MI STEM Forward, a statewide program that offers recruitment, administrative, and financial support for Michigan businesses to hire Michigan students into STEM roles. The Northern Lakes Economic Alliance (NLEA) introduced Stemo to the program by hosting an informational webinar and supporting the company in its application process.

With the assistance of Sam Bailey, Strategic Initiatives Manager with the NLEA, Stemo submitted a successful application to MI STEM Forward, which allowed MTI to advertise multiple positions on the organization’s job portal and review thousands of resumes from the state’s top aspiring talent in science, technology, engineering, and math. A strength of MI STEM Forward is that recruitment works two ways, candidates can apply to posted positions and employers can search a database of candidates and contact candidates directly. Stemo found that the program has an established talent pool of college students who are looking to gain internship experience or full-time position, but most importantly, “…have expressed an interest towards firms located in Northern Michigan.” By filtering for candidates with the required qualifications and an interest in working in Northern Lower Michigan, Stemo was able to reach out to Ryan Smith, a mid-career professional who recently earned a degree in computer science. A little over two months after posting a position, Smith joined the MTI team as a software developer. According to Stemo, Smith has been a great addition to the MTI team; “Given that MTI is a small company the addition of an individual like Ryan will be a large boost to the software development team.”

Intern Success

This result is exactly what Ben Ernst, Program Manager with MI STEM Forward, is aiming for; “The goal… is to increase the rate at which the state of Michigan retains their up-and-coming STEM student talent.” By offering recruitment, administrative, and financial support, the program seeks to increase the number of impactful and engaging internships, a proven talent retention strategy, for Michigan students; “For program interns who reported that they had graduated within the past 12 months, a full 88% indicated that they were still in the state. These retained interns represent highly educated and incredibly skilled additions to the state’s workforce.” Given the program’s success across the state, there are already discussion between MI STEM Forward and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation about how to expand the program to meet demand. According to Ernst, a focus of that expansion will be “…outreach to more rural parts of the state as well as underserved student populations.”

The emphasis on rural areas is exciting for Northern Lower Michigan. “As a region, we face a declining young population,” said David Emmel, President of the NLEA; “MI STEM Forward offers an avenue to both attract professionals to the area and retain our local students who may think they need to leave the area for economic opportunity. Talent attraction and retention is crucial to the continued success of Northern Lower Michigan businesses.”

Organizations interested in utilizing the MI STEM Forward program are encouraged to contact Sam Bailey at to learn more.

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