Working together to meet pressing workforce shortages

All across the nation, legislators and employers alike are concerned about a shortage of qualified workers.

A number of factors are at play in this, including a low unemployment rate, a decreasing pool of high school graduates, a shift in population from rural areas to the Twin Cities metro, and a large wave of baby boomer retirements. Over 10 years, the Minnesota economy will need to fill over one million jobs. Complicating an already difficult challenge, 74 percent of those jobs will require postsecondary education.

Minnesota State shares the concerns about this shortage and is partnering with the Legislature, business, and industry to ensure that Minnesota has the talent it needs to sustain its economic vitality.

This has been the topic of workforce conversations held across Minnesota, including in Granite Falls, Hutchinson, Willmar, and Marshall. In these meetings, community leaders, regional industry partners, K-12 administrators, students, faculty, staff, and legislators gathered for discussions that were hosted by Minnesota West Community & Technical College and Southwest Minnesota State University.

Community partners who participated included the Southwest West Central Service Cooperative, the Minnesota River Valley CTE Collaborative, and the Private Industry Council. I would especially like to thank Bruce Bergerson, Minnesota River Valley CTE Collaborative director, and Tara Onken, Marshall Economic Development director, for their roles in facilitating these important discussions.

As I reflect on these conversations, this much is clear: in communities across the state, Minnesota State plays a critical role in solving the workforce shortage because our colleges and universities engage in two critical strategies: leveraging the strength that exists in the system and fostering strong partnerships with the K-12 sector, business, and industry.

Our state colleges and universities work with each other to serve student and workforce needs in a number of ways. For example, students who complete specific associate degrees at a Minnesota State college can transfer to a Minnesota State university to earn a bachelor’s degree without losing credits or taking extra courses.

Collaborative campus and regional planning enhances access to educational opportunities and reduces costs to students and taxpayers. We are pooling our portfolio of non-credit programs into regional enterprises that deliver continuing education, customized training, and consultative solutions that better meet the needs of businesses and incumbent workers. By partnering on these initiatives, each Minnesota State college or university provides a door through which business and industry can access the strengths of all 37 colleges and universities across Minnesota.

Our partnerships with K-12 allow us to accomplish even more. We work with schools to offer Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) that allow students to earn college credit while still in high school, and we offer a variety of summer camps and outreach programs, such as the LYFT Career Pathways program here in Minnesota River Valley service area, that get middle and high school students excited about career opportunities they may not have considered previously.

In addition, we work with Adult Basic Education and community-based training organizations to help ensure students are ready for college-level work. We are especially grateful to the Marshall Public Schools for our strong partnership — and for hosting the roundtable in Marshall.

I was also pleased to see participation from so many strategic partners including Shawn Nobel and Andrew Stenson from Ametek, Katie Travis from Fagen, and Diane Wagner of Ralco Nutrition. Ametek has hired 25 employees since May and is partnering to train and find talent in the area. Mr. Nobel, engineering director at Ametek, spoke of young people not sure of what they want to do, due to a lack of career knowledge.

This makes exposure to careers in the area an important component for him, so Fagen is incorporating a program that will provide access for students to gain hands-on career experiences in the industry.

And finally, public/private partnerships are vital to our success. Good examples include the Workforce Development Scholarships that were funded by the legislature and supplemented by private contributions from business and industry partners. These innovative partnerships, forged by our colleges and universities in each of their respective communities, provided hundreds of new scholarships for students enrolling in programs with high employer demand — such as advanced manufacturing, agriculture, healthcare, and information technology — and made higher education even more affordable within these high demand industries.

All of the partnerships showcased during our roundtable are important to the success of the Minnesota River Valley community, to our students’ success, and to our success as a system of public higher education.

Fundamental to the success of all is our ability to adapt to the disruption that is affecting all sectors of the economy, including higher education. Building our capacity to adapt and become more creative, innovative, entrepreneurial is a strategic priority for the colleges and universities of Minnesota State. States and communities that will thrive will continue these conversations and ensure opportunities for all.

Devinder Malhotra is the chancellor of Minnesota State which includes 30 community and technical colleges and seven state universities serving approximately 375,000 students. It is the fourth-largest system of two-year colleges and four-year universities in the United States.