As the demand for skilled manufacturers grows, Minnesota businesses are becoming more and more creative in finding ways to increase their workforce.
One of their newest strategies? Reaching out to local high schools.
St. Peter and other Minnesota River Valley schools have been in talks this month with Cambria, one of the area’s largest manufacturers, discussing ways to help prepare students for life after high school.
Officials at the quartz countertop manufacturer hope to create a program that helps teens get ready to enter the workforce immediately after they graduate or while in college.
St. Peter Principal Paul Peterson said the possibility is an exciting one.
“It’s in its early stages but we had an opportunity to meet with Cambria officials almost a month ago now,” Peterson said. “[We] had a chance to tour their facilities, learn about Cambria, and then really learn about their expansion plans. We were really intrigued about them reaching out to high school and higher education [institutions] about how Cambria can be known to kids who could interested in the world of work right away, or entering the world of Cambria while their pursuing a secondary education.”
Cambria expanded its facilities first in 2008 and again last year. After both construction projects, it held job fairs to try to draw in potential employees.
But Cambria’s Vice President of Operations Brian Scoggin said while the most recent event drew in a large amount of skilled laborers, many of whom were hired, the candidate pool has shrunk. 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.
“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,” Scoggin said.
Recruiters 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.”
The inability to find skilled workers is 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.”
Peterson said discussions with Cambria are likely to continue. Not only is the company interested in helping the high schools develop a program to teach students important technical skills, it is also interested in developing ‘soft skills’ among students, like timeliness and good work ethic. Both will help teens succeed in the workplace, Peterson said.
And both will open new doors for students.
Cambria isn’t the only manufacturer in the area and the program could help prepare students to work at several local companies, including many of which are located directly in St. Peter, Peterson said.
“It’s exciting to think about how might education look different in terms of the world of manufacturing and then how do we organize our learning spaces to meet regional demands,” Peterson said. “… We’re excited to follow up with Cambria to see what a workplace development program might look like.”