SPRING LAKE, Mich. (WOOD) — Just a few years ago manufacturing in Michigan was dead on arrival. Skilled trades had no future in the state. High school students considering skilled trades as a career sought other options.

Today, companies like Herman Miller have had a hard time recruiting enough employees to run their machines.

“We don’t see a lot of folks coming to the doorstep here that are interested in a career in manufacturing. So it’s been a struggle to get the kids that want to do that,” Herman Miller senior operations manager Ed Manzo said.

Officials with Ottawa Careerline Tech, Grand Rapids Community College and Herman Miller came up with an idea.

Put Careerline Tech students into Herman Miller plants as paid interns, observing what goes on and honing their problem solving skills.

“Anything that prevents that operator from running that machine, they’re problem solving those issues out,” said Bubba Raymond, a continuous improvement leader with Herman Miller.

Beyond the factory floor, the program offers skilled trade classes through GRCC’s Lakeshore Campus, which includes an additional year of high school.

Once completed, students will have earned up to 30 college credits and an Industrial Maintenance Certificate as well as their high school diploma and career opportunities with companies like Herman Miller.

“It’s going to make everything a lot easier for me with all of the chances that I’m getting through the program and all of the new people that I’m meeting,” said Allendale High School senior Lisa Knoper, who signed up last spring.

The plan is unique in the way it includes the private sector.

“It helps fill a huge gap for us because our workforce is clearly getting to a point of retirements to the degree where over half of them will be retirement eligible within the next five years here,” Manzo said.

Ottawa Area Intermediate School District officials hope its success leads to other opportunities for both students and employers.