When building contractor McGough has an opening on one of its construction crews, it doesn’t have to look very far.
A short drive from the firm’s national headquarters in Roseville is the campus of St. Paul College, which turns out dozens of graduates in construction for an industry eager to hire.
Longtime partners St. Paul College and McGough are an example of the growing number of relationships across Minnesota to close the so-called “skills gap” by providing workers to industries struggling to fill job vacancies.
“It is a great opportunity for us to access those well-trained students who are ready to step into an apprenticeship role,” said Karin McCabe, director of outreach and diversity recruitment for McGough.
Some Minnesota employers have been struggling to find qualified job candidates for years. A 2011 survey by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development found 47 percent of the state’s businesses had unfilled jobs due to the lack of qualified applicants, with skilled production work facing the biggest shortage.
Fearing the shortage would get worse, chambers of commerce and other groups went looking for unique ways to connect businesses with qualified employees. Sometimes it is as simple as demonstrating the potential technical careers have to offer.
The need for training after high school is evident, but many workforce advocates say too often the emphasis is on a four-year degree rather than programs that at considerably less time and expense can lead to good-paying jobs.
That’s the case for Will Anderson of Stillwater, who spent a sunny Tuesday morning putting the finishing touches on a Vadnais Heights home his St. Paul College carpentry class has been building for the past five months. Anderson bounced around a variety of college classes after high school but never found a career path that felt right.
“I always loved wood shop in high school, so I thought I would give carpentry a try,” Anderson said. “I’m glad I did.”
On Wednesday, Anderson will complete St. Paul College’s nine-month carpentry program, and the following day, he’ll start a job in residential construction. He’s happy to be heading into a hands-on career that’s in high demand.
“I spent a lot of time and money going to school because that’s what you are supposed to do,” Anderson said. “Now everybody I know with a business degree is struggling to find a job.”
WHO’S PAYING ATTENTION TO THE SKILLS GAP?
Federal and state business leaders and lawmakers are taking a hard look at ways to help students such as Anderson find the right career fit without so many false starts.
Last month, U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., visited St. Paul College to talk about ways to get more high school students exposed to high-demand technical careers.
At the statehouse, the Republican-led Legislature has prioritized keeping technical schools affordable, and Gov. Mark Dayton is pushing for more financial assistance for low-income students.
There also are a small but growing number of incentives to foster partnerships between schools and businesses like the one between St. Paul College and McGough.
St. Paul College is part of the Minnesota State colleges and universities system, which is at the epicenter of such partnerships. The system has nearly 2,500 technical training programs and provides customized training to hundreds of businesses each year.
The lion’s share of Minnesota’s mechanics, manufacturing workers and nurses come from Minnesota State schools.
A STRUGGLE TO FILL OPENINGS
The growing attention paid to technical careers is a welcome shift for the family that runs Haberman Machine, which has locations in Oakdale and Stillwater. The business of about 55 employees currently has 10 openings, a work shortage that can impact productivity.
“It’s something we struggle with all the time,” said Kim Arrigoni, the company’s controller. “The frustration is you are not able to ship the sales that you want to. It’s not a shop issue or a machine issue, it’s a people issue.”
Arrigoni hopes schools will put new focus on the opportunities technical careers can provide and illustrate that potential to students and their parents.
The shortage of highly skilled workers isn’t just in fields that create a lot of sawdust or metal shavings by the end of the workday.
NEEDS IN HEALTH CARE
In an aging population with many workers heading for retirement, the health care industry needs a dedicated pipeline of talent, too.
At HealthPartners, Mary Russell, director of organizational effectiveness, says that means exploring new ways to attract and retain workers.
The health care giant is partnering with several MnSCU institutions to pilot apprenticeships that give prospective employees on-the-job experiences and existing workers clearer pathways to advance their careers.
“It’s a different way of thinking about things, and that is good for all of us,” Russell said.
This article originally appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. To view the original article, please click here.