An employer-designed certification program could fill talent demand

In southeast Michigan, DTE Energy leads a business and community collaborative to develop the talent pipeline

There is a massive and growing need for skilled workers in the customer service field in Michigan. In fact, it’s estimated that over the next six years, it will be the sixth largest occupation in the state, with more than 12,000 job openings and not enough people to fill them.

So, if you’re an employer looking to fill one of those jobs, how do you find that talent? And, if you’re a job seeker applying for one of those jobs, how do you prove you have the needed skills?

One answer is a new program that is certifying workers in this in-demand field. Last fall, Henry Ford College launched its Customer Service Professional Certificate Achievement program. The idea came out of a customer service collaborative talent development project made up of Detroit-area businesses, including Ford Motor Co., Henry Ford Health System, and DTE Energy, which hosts the effort. The business leaders are part of an even bigger, national project – being run by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation – called Talent Finance.

Deborah Majeski, manager of workforce development, DTE Energy (Photo: DTE Energy)

Deborah Majeski is DTE’s manager of workforce development. “Customer service jobs significantly impact the success of a company and the customers it serves,” says explains. During the pandemic, industry and community leaders in the collaborative signaled there wouldn’t be enough workers to fill thousands of these key frontline jobs over the coming years.

And, depending on the company, that job could have any number of titles “…from customer resolution specialists, contract center advocates, clinic service representatives, customer service representatives, sales, product support, and account receivables,” Majeski adds.

What these jobs all have in common is a certain skill set – an active listener, a problem solver, and a great communicator who likes working with the public. While customer service is an important, albeit entry-level job at most companies, the employers in the collaborative are also looking for long-term employees. “The focus of the project is to build a workforce of qualified talent who value their role, provide outstanding customer service, and remain with the company,” Majeski tells WorkingNation.

That’s where the training program comes in.

Certificate Program Designed to Fill In-Demand Jobs

The Customer Service Professional certificate was developed in consultation with the businesses in the collaborative and may be used as a building block towards earning an Associate in Business degree, explains the Henry Ford college.

The 16-week certificate program requires students to take six core courses that emphasize oral and written skills, workplace skills, along with basic computer skills. Upon completion, students would be able to write effective business communications, demonstrate non-verbal and verbal skills in a business environment, show organizational skills, and practice proper business etiquette.

Students who successfully finish the program would qualify to test for the National Retail Federation (NRF) Foundation’s Professional Certification in Customer Service, a nationally recognized skill standards and certification exam.

Rethinking the Public-Private Approach to Financing Workforce Talent

Business and community leaders identified the workforce need. Working with a local college, they were able to build a talent pipeline. They next key step is eliminating financial barriers to the education, training and upskilling in order to make certain everyone has access to opportunities in the changing workforce.

“Currently, the identified funding resources are financial aid, Michigan Works, and Detroit Promise tuition support for eligible students,” explains Majeski.

In a white paper released in September of 2020, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and its partners called for a rethinking of the public-private approach to financing workforce talent. “We now need to change the incentives for employers and government to work together as part of a new public-private approach to talent development that can scale promising employer, private sector, government, and service provider innovations,” according to the Talent Finance call-to-action.

Majeski says education funding can be a challenge for many and being a part of the Talent Finance network had allowed the collaborative to learn about other innovative funding options.

“We have not identified Talent Finance components yet to support our efforts however we are continuing to research and identify opportunities. Through the network of peers, solution providers, and financial experts, collaboratives can build their talent pipelines for the future. The connection introduced me to customized training agreements provided locally in Detroit. Without this TFIN network our customer service collaborative would not have know about these other financial solution partners.”

The demand for customer service talent is huge – across all industries – and Majeski would like to see the program developed through the collaborative grow and engage more job seekers with the help of these education financing ideas.

“Community has meaning to DTE. It’s where the organization responds to customers’ needs, works with residents to revitalize neighborhoods, and connects people to opportunities that improve their quality of life. We’re passionate about our work because Michigan is home,” she says.

“(These) decisions not only allow us to lead the way in energy, but also engage with local communities to create jobs, grow our middle class, and make life better in our state. We want to be more than just an energy provider, we want to be a resource for the communities we serve and, together, become a transformational force for good throughout the state.”