Partnerships, investment in training build a skilled workforce in Minnesota
Consistently high productivity rates, labor participation rates that lead the nation and standout educational attainment rates give Minnesota a decided workforce advantage.
One of the key drivers of that workforce success is the Minnesota State system, comprised of 30 two-year community, technical and comprehensive colleges, and seven state universities, with 54 total campuses in 47 communities around the state.
The Minnesota State system is also the state’s largest provider of customized training, assisting more than 3,500 companies each year with new job training and employee re-training, and serving more than 120,000 workers.
Aiding those efforts is the Minnesota Job Skills Partnership (MJSP), a program of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) that awards grants to colleges and universities to develop and implement customized training programs for partner businesses. Since 2011, the program has awarded $41.8 million to train 48,699 workers. The grants also benefit the colleges by allowing them to increase training capacity, notes Jamie Barthel, interim executive director, professional and workforce training and institutional advancement for Anoka Technical College and Anoka Ramsey Community College in Coon Rapids.
“We have completed several training grants with companies that specialize in medical device manufacturing. These training experiences have provided employees with skills that help the businesses compete,” Barthel says. “As a direct result of our involvement in the grants, our faculty have gained increased capacity in medical device topics and medical device educational programs have evolved at the college. These training projects would not exist without the MJSP funding support.”
Anoka Ramsey Community College also received a $300,000 MJSP grant to develop training for 302 technical operators and maintenance mechanics at canned food producer La Costeña (formerly Faribault Foods), as well as a $225,175 grant to help Sign-Zone Inc. develop new manufacturing processes and controls.
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Alexandria Industries, a producer of engineered products, including aluminum extrusions and precision-machined and plastic injection-molded components, partnered with Alexandria Technical and Community College. The company worked with the college to develop a manufacturing boot camp that gives employees some 120 hours of training in areas, such as safety, blueprint reading, precision measuring and technical math, as well as hands-on training on the shop floor. The training program was sponsored through an MJSP grant.
“The idea is to take people who are not familiar with manufacturing or are looking for a career in manufacturing and give them an introduction to the manufacturing environment so they’re comfortable jumping into our different machining or fabrication cells,” says Ben Bomstad, corporate training manager for Alexandria Industries.
Finding qualified workers is one of the manufacturing sector’s biggest challenges, and Alexandria is no exception. The training program, Bomstad says, “has allowed us to recruit in different areas. Our focus for recruitment doesn’t have to just stick to people who have experience in manufacturing. It can also include people who are looking for a career change or underserved or underemployed populations that are in need of a good job.”
St. Cloud-based Grede LLC, a full-service supplier of metal components to the transportation and industrial markets, used an MJSP partnership grant with St. Cloud State University and St. Cloud Technical College to train more than two dozen workers in a number of areas and equipment, including fluid power systems maintenance and operation of the Dieselmatic. The college and university provided instructors and training facilities, as well as the hardware and software for a video-based training program for management trainees.
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“Typically, we’ve been able to recruit locally, at least regionally, and train our employees. The video-based training program is just going to provide a better, more time-efficient way of training employees,” says Randy Welsand, manager of safety and training at Grede.
“Businesses contact us because they’re really looking for a unique training experience to help their employees gain real, valuable skills,” says Gail Ruhland, executive director, St. Cloud State University Center for Continuing Studies. “A lot of times the emphasis is on training the person with a new skill or technology, but in some instances, it is enhancing the person’s supervisory or leadership skills. The effect is the same – it builds a stronger workforce.”