As the demand for skilled manufacturing workers grows, Minnesota businesses are becoming more and more creative in finding ways to increase their workforce.
Le Sueur’s largest manufacturer, Cambria, is thinking creatively by reaching out to local high schools.
Officials at the quartz countertop manufacturer are in discussions with several schools in the Minnesota River Valley area to create a program that helps students prepare for life after high school. Although the project is in the discussion phase, interest among area schools is growing.
“When you look at the equipment we are using [and the skills needed to operate it], you have to get very creative with where you are going to get your talent pool,” said Brian Scoggin, Cambria’s executive vice president of operations.
Cambria hosted a job fair during its first building expansion in 2008, which allowed the company to fill the positions it needed at the time. After construction began on a second building expansion last year, Cambria hosted yet another job fair to draw potential employees.
Although last year’s job fair attracted many who are now with the company, Scoggin said the pool of candidates was not as large as what the 2008 job fair provided.
As a result, Cambria has created a full-time position to help recruit potential workers. Scoggin said the company’s recruiter has visited with school officials from Le Sueur-Henderson, St. Peter, Tri-City United, Cleveland, Belle Plaine, Mankato East and Mankato West high schools.
They have also reached out to higher education institutions in the area, including South Central College in North Mankato and Minnesota State University, Mankato.
“We are really trying to market ourselves to a number of different venues,” Scoggin said. “The purpose of visiting with local high schools is not to deter students from going to college, but show them another option and how we operate.”
Finding skilled workers in not unique to Cambria. At an April 16 press conference, President Barack Obama announced a manufacturing employee apprenticeship program, “Advanced Manufacturing Workforce Pilot” that will begin at four sites throughout the United States, including South Central College in both North Mankato and Faribault.
Similar to an internship, an apprenticeship takes place after college graduation and offers on-the-job training. Apprenticeships often result in a job offer after completion.
Annette Parker, president of South Central College is a member of Obama’s Advanced Manufacturing Project steering committee and leads the committee’s workforce development team. Parker’s role in the AMP made it possible for the apprenticeship pilot to come to SCC.
“Many manufacturers can’t do what they need because they lack the workforce,” she said.
If Cambria's program with area high schools and colleges comes to fruition, it would create plans for an on-site classroom in its manufacturing plant before the 2014-15 school year begins.
Scoggin said Cambria has provided South Central College with a list of skills required to work in different capacities at the plant, such as programming and automation.
“The big thing is [students] get to see a manufacturing environment and the disciplines you need to be a valuable asset.”
LS-H Middle/High School Principal Kevin Enerson is excited about the opportunities the program could provide to high school students.
“My industrial technology teachers are planning tours at Cambria – [Cambria] really has a heck of an operation out there,” Enerson said.
The on-site classroom at the Cambria plant is an intriguing option for high school students, but Enerson acknowledged there are some limitations to have students in the plant who are under 18. Safety is the main concern, both Enerson and Scoggin said.
“This program could lead to some other opportunities down the line,” Enerson said. “We do have students interested and this would give them a taste of what working in a manufacturing environment is all about.”