ALLENDALE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Valley State University is teaming up with West Michigan businesses to launch a new work-and-learn initiative.

For more than a decade, Ada-based Michigan Software Labs has developed digital products and software for businesses across the world. At the heart of the company are its employees.

“The people that are here to help us build that software, that helps us kind of create those solutions, are really the most important part of who we are as a team,” said Joshua Hulst, co-founder and managing partner at Michigan Software Labs.

The company currently employs around 40 people, and it’s looking to grow. As they continue to recruit new workers, Hulst said he’s noticed a gap in the skills that graduates have developed.

“There’s always that disconnect of how do you create the technical skills, the foundations, and turn that into the soft skills, the people interaction, and the business acumen that goes forward,” Hulst said.

It’s part of the reason that Michigan Software Labs has decided to team up with Grand Valley State University for its Laker Accelerated Talent Link program.

The pilot program will allow 25 GVSU students to gain real-work experience at companies like Michigan Software Labs, Amway, Corewell Health (formally Spectrum Health), Cascade Engineering and Acrisure. Students that participate will earn a paid internship and certificate. Certificate programs include project management, applied data analytics, business fundamentals and technical sales.

“They get to really experience the culture of the companies they’re in, so it’s really a win-win. It’s a win for the employers. It’s a win for the students,” said Philomena Mantella, Grand Valley State University president.

Students within the program must also commit to working for their respective companies for one year after graduation if they are offered employment.

“We at Grand Valley are graduating 4,000 plus students a year, many who want to stay in the region,” Mantella said.

Employers like Hulst said they hope that students within the program remain in West Michigan well beyond the year that’s required.

“Start at Michigan Labs, start at a lot of the other companies around, and make this the spot that you build your career,” Hulst said.

The Laker Accelerated Talent Link program will launch in August. Mantella said she wants more businesses and students to join after its pilot year is completed, and she anticipates upwards of 100 students could be within the program in the future.