MARSHALL - Building a strong workforce in southwest Minnesota is a crucial task, but one that will require lots of partnership, Steven Rosenstone said. That's why he wanted to hear the concerns of area employers, educators and lawmakers.
Rosenstone, chancellor of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, visited with a group of Marshall area community members and area legislative representatives on Monday, as part of a tour of communities served by Minnesota West Community and Technical Colleges. Rosenstone said there were two main purposes for his visit: to gather feedback on the selection process for a new Minnesota West president, and to hear what educators and employers need from Minnesota West as it looks to the future.
Minnesota West President Richard Shrubb has announced he plans to retire end of his current contract, Rosenstone said, and MnSCU is preparing to both appoint an interim president and begin a nationwide hiring search for a new president. Rosenstone said MnSCU would likely call for nominations for an interim president next week, while the hiring search would get under way in the fall. Rosenstone said Monday's meetings with communities served by Minnesota West programs and campuses were meant to be like the stakeholder meetings that helped direct the search for Southwest Minnesota State University's president.
In addition to setting the tone for the search, Rosenstone said community feedback was also needed to help shape the direction Minnesota West needed to take for future workforce development. Minnesota colleges and universities can't keep relying on the same tools to prepare young people for their careers, he said.
"We need to think differently," Rosenstone said. Part of taking a new approach was working together with employers in initiatives like the Itasca Project Workforce Alignment Effort. But colleges and universities also needed to work with K-12 educators to help prepare students for higher education and the workforce.
"Every student needs a plan," Rosenstone said - and not just a plan of study, but a career plan.
At the same time, he said, those kinds of changes will need to be made on a regional basis, instead of being centrally enforced by MnSCU. "We cannot do this by ourselves."
Community members voiced a variety of concerns and ideas to Rosenstone. Marshall EDA director Cal Brink and Marshall Community Services Director Harry Weilage said the Marshall area is faced with some challenges in offering technical education and training. They said there is a demand for technical education - the community is growing, has several major employers and a stable immigrant population seeking to improve their job skills. But Marshall doesn't have a Minnesota West campus in town, so it isn't always easy to offer certain kinds of training.
Marshall Superintendent Klint Willert said access to technical education and job training was also something the school district would like to see.
"We want to smooth the pathway to getting alternative education," Willert said. Examples of alternative education options could include internship programs, or other hands-on education that could help high school students earn an associate's degree or start a career.
Local businesspeople said it would also help them to encourage young people to stay in the Marshall area after they complete their education.
"It's about getting a realization of just what is here," said John DeCramer of BH Electronics in Marshall. He said area businesses need employees like computer programmers, engineers and mechanics. "You've got to show people that there's an opportunity."
Major employers like the Schwan Food Co. are in favor of working together with educators to build the workforce they need, said Chris Ellingson, human resources manager for the Schwan plants in Marshall. In coming years, he said, Schwan will be in urgent need of employees like mechanical engineers or programmers for automated production equipment.
"We want to be partners," Ellingson said, although "the infrastructure isn't quite there yet."
Ellingson said Schwan is involved with initiatives like the Itasca Project and is looking for partnerships to help recruit and train employees. An example of a possible partnership might involve showing high school students the kind of career opportunities available with the company and offering on-the-job experience while students complete a technical degree, he said.
Overall, community members agreed with Rosenstone that a regionalized approach would best help area schools, communities and employers work together.