Local Learning: Partnerships train the workforce of tomorrow

By: Kelcey Woods-Nord
October 1, 2017

The infamous skills gap has been a hot topic among employers for several years now, and despite a significant increase in optimism among Minnesota manufactures, attracting and retaining qualified workers still remains one of their top concerns. In fact, the 2017 State of Manufacturing Survey showed a 40 percent growth in concern over qualified workers (those with the right skills and education) by small- to mid-sized manufacturers in Greater Minnesota.

And they have cause to be concerned. Economic and demographic trends have resulted in a shortage of skilled technicians across the state, threatening sustained growth and resulting in a shrinking, less-qualified pipeline of workers entering the manufacturing sector. As employers continue to search for enough workers to meet production goals, educators are challenged to find creative ways to more efficiently and effectively prepare students for the workforce.

Woods-Nord

Enter South Central College and the Minnesota Advanced Manufacturing Partnership. The lead college of the MnAMP consortium, SCC received a $15 million Department of Labor grant to fund the Learn Work Earn program, which focuses on building and sustaining career pathways in advanced manufacturing – specifically machining, mechatronics and welding.

As a part of these pathways, students are provided the opportunity to earn stackable credentials while working in industry, and employers couldn’t be happier. Devon Barnes, general manager at Advanced Coil Technology, hired a welding student this summer and was extremely pleased with how prepared he was to jump right into production work.

“We’ve recently hired three students from SCC’s welding program. All three have had the basic job skills we need, are personable and willing to work, and pick up on the specific technical skills we teach quickly, and Brett was no exception,” he said. As a result, Advanced Coil continues to employ Brett while he completes his welding diploma this fall.

Building on the successes students and employers have seen during short-term summer internships, SCC took it one step further and introduced registered apprenticeship and dual-training programs in advanced manufacturing during the fall of 2016. These programs provide students with the unique opportunity to work in the field and practice technical skills on-site with an experienced mentor while simultaneously completing a college degree or industry credential. Even better, as a result of employers’ financial commitment and state and federal grant programs such as the Pipeline Project and the Minnesota Apprenticeship Initiative, students are able to do so with minimal debt.

Since fall 2016, 33 students from SCC’s North Mankato and Faribault campuses have participated in apprenticeships or dual-training programs at nine regional companies. In addition, 52 incumbent workers from 12 companies across the state have participated in apprenticeships through +Connect, a series of courses delivered by live instructors through online video conferencing technology.

Cybex International Inc. was one of SCC’s first dual-training partners, enrolling six students in the college’s machining program over the past two years. The company promoted the program internally, highlighting the fact that new employees could supplement their internal training with SCC’s dual-training program and move more quickly along their career pathway. “We have a hard time finding employees with strong fabrication backgrounds,” explained Fabrication Manager Jason DeMars. “SCC’s machining program reinforces the technical skills these students are learning on the job, strengthens their decision-making skills and allows us to promote more quickly within.”

If companies are interested in starting apprenticeship or dual-training programs, now is the time. They are a proven way for education and industry to creatively and effectively address the shortage of skilled workers in technical fields. Partnering with South Central College’s Learn Work Earn program can help strengthen the skills of your current and future employees and build the workforce you need today.

Kelcey Woods-Nord is a Project Coordinator for the MnAMP grant at South Central College. In her nine years at South Central College, Kelcey has helped bring in more than $25 million in grant funding and currently works with employers and students on apprenticeships and dual-training programs.

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