Higher Education Helps Workforce Development in Rochester, MN
Higher learning institutions target workforce development
One of the most attractive aspects of Rochester for employers is the presence of several institutions of higher learning. These include Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC), University of Minnesota Rochester (UMR) and Winona State University-Rochester (WSU-R), as well as 45 two- and four-year schools found within 90 minutes of the city. Private schools include Augsburg College, Cardinal Stritch University, the College of St. Scholastica, Mayo Clinic School of Medicine and St. Mary’s University of Minnesota.
Fortunately for Rochester’s business community, these institutions are highly collaborative, giving the community an economic edge. The “Collective Impact” model, championed by Dr. Jeanine Gangeness, associate vice president of WSU-R, opens channels for dialogue between the schools, local employers and the area workforce.
Working hand-in-glove with the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce, colleges and universities were able to identify needs from the business community and promote opportunities for new and continuing education programs.
Collaboration is an important strategy that helps each school identify and connect with its core student groups and workforce populations. Each university can focus on the best ways to serve the needs of their primary constituencies, while frequent communication between each institution and major employers ensures the needs of the community are met.
Even newcomers to Rochester can find resources in this cooperative atmosphere.
“Developers’ first discussions are usually with the Chamber, whom we provide with a menu of training and educational options,” Gangeness says. “Because we all work together, we have a pretty good understanding of each [university’s] offerings. They aren’t being met with ‘nobody does that here.’"
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Other issues local employers face are ever-changing industry standards and techniques, and the challenge of keeping their current workforce up to speed. Dr. Jennifer Wilson, director of RCTC’s business and workforce education department, says communication is key.
“We have a diverse advisory board with a lot of different industries,” she says. “We talk to them about what changes they’re seeing in their workforce or in their industry, and we can create programs customized for their workforce.”
Wilson said the biggest boon to the efforts of RCTC and other academic institutions in nurturing Rochester’s talent pool has been support from the state of Minnesota, which provides funding, and community partners that match the grants. The school develops a program for a specific need, collaborating with the partner. Even after completion, the participating school can fold the program into its future syllabi.
“We work with a business to identify needs they have and we develop curriculum and do the training,” she says. “It could be something as general as leadership training, or something specific like a certain type of weld an engineering firm wants all its employees to know.”
Preparing for the Future
Attracting and retaining young talent is important for a sustainable workforce (and city), and UMR sees its role in the community as the main supplier of future employees and leaders. The school’s largest programs are rooted in health care, and faculty focus on research methods, giving students skills to adjust to the ever-changing landscape.
“We prepare students to take on a number of different careers,” says UMR Chancellor Lori Carrell. “We don’t know what health care will look like 10, 15 years from now, so we train our students to be curious, know how to do research, understand policy issues, and be compassionate.”
UMR pushes to be at the forefront of innovation, which is why the university signed on as the anchor tenant at One Discovery Square in downtown Rochester, part of a 16-block life science research campus. UMR will partner with the Mayo Clinic to bring world-class researchers and entrepreneurs under one roof to accelerate commercialization for the health-care industry.
“Rochester’s tagline is ‘America’s City for Care and Innovation,’ and I perceive that to be true,” Carrell says. “I really sleep well knowing the future of [health care] is in the hands of our talented students.”