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Minnesota Colleges and Universities Bring Talent to High-Growth Industries

Learn how Minnesota's higher education system meets employer demand and prepares graduates for the state's growing knowledge economy.

By Teree Caruthers on July 10, 2015

Minnesota / Patrick O’Leary

Even as labor markets tighten around the country, Minnesota’s bevy of colleges and universities keep the pipeline of highly skilled talent flowing for the state’s employers, particularly in fast-growing sectors such as biotech, IT, health care and engineering.

Education has long been a point of pride in Minnesota, and one of the key reasons Minnesota was named America’s Top State for Business by CNBC in 2015.

“Minnesota is widely known for its educated workforce – it is one of the things that sets us apart,” says Doug Anderson director of communication and media for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. “MnSCU is the single-largest contributor to that workforce.”

The system includes 24 two-year community, technical, and comprehensive colleges and seven state universities, together serving more than 410,000 students. It is the state’s single-largest provider of customized training and continuing education – training more than 150,000 employees each year and serving more than 3,500 businesses and employers.

Workforce Ready

Those 24 community and technical colleges, in all corners of the state, are homed in on the needs of local industries. Advisory committees comprised of business leaders and community members regularly meet with college and university faculty and staff to discuss the types of skills needed to fill high-demand jobs. Recently, the system rolled out a statewide program to help colleges and universities incorporate real-time labor data into course and curriculum planning.

“These data not only include the usual supply and demand information, but also more detailed information within current job postings about the skills required in those occupations,” says Mary Rothchild, MnSCU senior system director of workforce development. “From a state perspective, we’re really trying to develop new capabilities and tools that will improve how we communicate with businesses and how we work with them to improve the education of our students.”

Another opportunity for businesses to help mold a future workforce is through talent-in-training partnerships with colleges and universities, which allow students to gain real-world experience that leads to workforce-ready graduates, says Rothchild.

The FUSION Employer Engaged Education program, for example, pairs students at Minnesota State University-Mankato and Metropolitan State University with IT companies in need of skilled application and Web developers. In fact, MnSCU provides nearly half of Minnesota’s business graduates and half of the state’s information technology graduates. This statistic is not lost on companies such as Maverick Software Consulting, which set up an office across the street from the Minnesota State University-Mankato campus in order to train and recruit graduates.

Tech-Talent Transfer

The five-campus University of Minnesota System is a powerful economic engine for the state, both in terms of its $8.6 billion overall economic impact and the $390 million in revenue generated by the University’s research and development efforts. Through the University of Minnesota’s Office of University Economic Development (UED), industries benefit from the transfer of research-backed technology to the market.

“The UED serves as the front door for businesses that want to explore partnership with the university. Through UED, industry and community partners can connect with university research talent and other resources, allowing businesses to make the University work for them. These collaborations are crucial to supporting the economic development goals of regions across the state,” says Brian Herman, vice president for research at the University of Minnesota.

The University’s Office for Technology Commercialization licenses patented technology to existing companies to help stimulate growth in a range of industries – from agriculture and life sciences to engineering, software and information technology, says Herman. The University also facilitates the creation of startups around university-developed technology, allowing them to bring new discoveries to market.

Bridge Work

The University of Minnesota system also helps bridge the talent gap in a number of the state’s health-care fields. The University’s Rural Physician Associate Program has graduated some 600 medical students who have gone on to practice in the state’s underserved rural communities. The University trains more than 70 percent of the state’s physicians and dentists, and the dental school was the first in the nation to graduate dental therapists.

“The University is a key contributor to Minnesota’s skilled workforce, providing top-of-the-line education to train workers for a career in the state’s high-growth industries,” Herman says. “With five campuses, more than 65,000 students, 25,000 employees and some 400,000 alumni, the U provides ample opportunity for recruitment and interaction.”

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