Futures for Frontliners: What is an essential worker?

Illustration of essential workers.

When the state announced in September that qualified essential workers can get free in-district tuition to their local community college via the new Futures for Frontliners program, a question many people had was: What is an essential worker?

Below are the essential worker industries listed as examples on the state’s Futures for Frontliners website. Note that in addition to working in one of the industries listed below, eligible Futures for Frontliners students must:

  • Be a Michigan resident
  • Have a high school diploma or equivalent
  • Have worked in an essential industry at least part-time for 11 of the 13 weeks between April 1 and June 30, 2020
  • Have been required by their job to work outside the home at least some of the time between April 1 and June 30, 2020
  • Have not yet earned an associate or bachelor’s degree
  • Not be in default on a federal student loan
  • Complete a Futures for Frontliners scholarship application by 11:59 p.m. Dec. 31, 2020

For more information about Futures for Frontliners at KCC or to set up an appointment with the KCC Admissions Office to discuss attending KCC, visit www.kellogg.edu/frontliners.

What Is an Essential Worker?

According to the state, an “essential” or “frontline” worker is one who “worked in a job that required them to work outside of their home, putting themselves at risk of exposure” to COVID-19. Examples of such workers, provided by the state, include the following.

Chemical Supply Chains and Safety

Workers critical to the continued production, operation, maintenance, distribution and safe transport of chemical and raw basic chemical materials and industrial gas supplies, protective cleaning and medical solution supplies, and industrial and consumer goods.

Sample employers:

  • Chemical plants
  • Laboratories
  • Distribution facilities

Communications and Information Technology (IT)

Workers critical to the continued infrastructure development, installation, maintenance and operation of communication systems.

Sample employers:

  • News media
  • Telecom companies (e.g. AT&T, T-Mobile)
  • Command centers
  • Client service centers
  • Distribution facilities

Critical Manufacturing

Workers critical to the manufacturing of critical materials and products that supported other essential industries.

Sample employers:

  • Manufacturing plants
  • Processing plants

Defense Industrial Base

Workers critical to the continued research and development, design, production, delivery and maintenance of military weapons systems, subsystems and components or parts to meet U.S. military requirements, including sanitary workers and maintenance staff.

Sample employers:

  • Defense contractors
  • IT workers
  • Security staff and personnel


Workers critical to the continued development, maintenance, safe transport and delivery of the state’s energy supply and infrastructure, including necessary equipment and supplies.

Sample employers:

  • Mining companies, production facilities or power plants
  • Distribution facilities
  • On- or off-shore drilling or renewable energy companies

Financial Services

Workers critical to the continued provision, processing, verification and recording of financial transactions and services, including armored cash carriers and workers providing electronic point of sale support.

Sample employers:

  • Banks
  • Non-bank financial or lending companies
  • Call centers
  • Accounting firms

Food and Agriculture

Workers critical to the continued safe transport, delivery and sale of food (human and animal), beverage and agricultural supplies and products, including workers who fulfill remote orders for goods and curbside delivery or pick-up.

Sample employers:

  • Grocery stores or convenience stores
  • Restaurants
  • Farms or ranches
  • Diesel/ethanol facilities, storage facilities or sawmills
  • Distribution facilities
  • Laboratories

Health Care and Public Health

Workers critical to the continued operation and delivery of health care and public health safety services, including hygiene, hazardous materials and environmental health.

Sample employers:

  • Clinics
  • Hospitals
  • Long-term care facilities
  • In-home care
  • Vendors/suppliers/retail facilities for hygiene products and medical goods, supplies and materials
  • Cleaning and waste management facilities, including hazardous waste

Law Enforcement, Public Safety and First Responders

Workers critical to the continued provision and support of prevention, preparedness, response and recovery services.

Sample employers:

  • Police or fire stations
  • Prisons
  • Security companies
  • Distribution facilities developing or supplying safety equipment and/or uniforms for all public safety personnel
  • Vendors or suppliers who maintain and provide services and supplies to public safety facilities

Other Community or Government Based Operations and Essential Functions

Workers critical to the continued function of local and state government operations, including maintenance and safety inspection personnel.

Sample employers:

  • Local government
  • State government
  • Public education, including K-12 and higher education
  • Zoos or aquariums
  • Permitting, licensing or credentialing offices for essential workers and their operations

Public Works

Workers critical to the continued operation, construction, maintenance or rehabilitation of critical infrastructure.

Sample employers:

  • Landfill operations
  • Dam engineering/inspection companies
  • Construction companies
  • Structural and bridge inspection companies
  • Maintenance companies

Transportation and Logistics

Workers critical to the continued operation and maintenance of public transportation systems and personal transportation services, including transportation network providers.

Sample employers:

  • Warehouse workers
  • Transit companies
  • Transportation repair shops/companies
  • Taxi or ride-sharing companies
  • Driving training and education centers
  • Towing and recovery or roadside assistance companies

Water and Wastewater

Workers critical to the continued operation and maintenance of drinking water, wastewater and drainage infrastructure.

Sample employers:

  • Wastewater treatment or collection facilities
  • Community water system companies/facilities
  • Water distribution and testing facilities

Additional Frontline Workers

Identified by Gov. Whitmer in Executive Orders 2020-21 and 2020-70:

  • Workers providing child care for other critical infrastructure workers, including workers at disaster relief child care centers
  • Workers at suppliers, distribution centers or service providers
  • Workers in the insurance industry unable to work remotely
  • Workers for businesses or operations that provide minimum basic needs to the economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals, individuals who need assistance as a result of COVID-19 and people with disabilities
  • Workers critical to labor union functions unable to work remotely
  • Workers at retail stores selling groceries, medical supplies and products necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation and basic operation of residences or motor vehicles; including convenience stores, pet supply stores, auto supplies and repair stores, hardware and home maintenance stores and home appliance retailers
  • Workers at laundromats, coin laundries and dry cleaners
  • Workers for garden stores, nurseries, lawn care, pest control and landscaping operations
  • Workers at motor vehicle dealerships or who deliver motor vehicles to customers
  • Workers at hotels and motels
  • Maintenance workers and groundskeepers
  • Workers for moving or storage operations

For more information about qualifying as an essential worker or about eligibility for the Futures for Frontliners program, visit the state’s Futures for Frontliners Frequently Asked Questions page or contact the KCC Admissions office at adm@kellogg.edu or 269-965-4153.