Minnesota’s Labor Commissioner Nancy Lippink chose to visit Faribault during Minnesota Manufacturers Week because of the robust and largely successful partnerships between Faribault’s businesses and educational institutions.

“The department has very strong partners in Faribault within the manufacturing sector and the technical college,” said Lippnik. “This was a great opportunity to hear what’s been working for them and how we can continue to grow these programs.”

But businesses in Faribault and across the state are struggling with a shortage of qualified workers, and manufacturing is among the industry with the most extreme shortages. Thursday’s discussion centered around evaluating programs that have been put in place over the last several years in an attempt to reduce that workforce shortage, and the Commissioner welcomed new ideas for how to tackle the problem.

Local business leaders on Thursday discussed workforce needs and programs like the PIPELINE Grant program offered by the state of Minnesota with Lippnik, South Central College President Annette Parker, state Sen. John Jasinski and Faribault Mayor Kevin Voracek at an open forum.

The forum was held in the middle of Minnesota Manufacturers Week, a time to raise awareness of the contributions manufacturing makes to Minnesota’s economy and quality of life. In 2018, manufacturing added $52.7 billion to Minnesota’s economy, the second-largest contribution of any industry to the state’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Faribault has a large and growing manufacturing industry, with Daikin Applied, SageGlass, Faribault Foods and MRG Tool & Die among the city’s largest employers. Daikin in early 2018 announced a $40 million expansion project in Faribault that will bring more than 100 jobs to the city. While other companies in the city are looking to add workers, Daikin’s expanding in Owatonna as well. Last month it received city assistance for an expansion that includes the construction of a 150,000-square-foot warehouse just east of Steele County manufacturing space.

The U.S. Department of Labor, in hopes of increasing the supply of qualified manufacturing employees, funded the creation of the Minnesota Apprenticeship Initiative in 2015. Administered by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, the Apprenticeship Program provides employers in high demand sectors with up to $5,000 to cover apprenticeship costs.

Another program that has been established to help businesses recruit new workers is the Youth Skills Training Program. Designed for students 16 and older and implemented in collaboration with local schools, the Youth Skills Training Program combines hands on training with in-classroom education.

Since 2014, the state has also provided PIPELINE grants to qualified businesses to help them provide comprehensive on the job training for employees. In 2015, the state launched a dual-training grant program within the PIPELINE program, giving local businesses the opportunity to integrate their training with services from local educational institutions like Faribault’s South Central College.

Last year, South Central College received a $400,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to train 850 Daikin Applied employees over the next two years. As Daikin continues to expand in Faribault, SCC’s Parker said the college is committed to helping the company meet its workforce needs.

The U.S. remains the world’s largest manufacturing economy after China and manufacturing jobs can still provide a key pathway to the middle class, with the average Minnesota manufacturing job paying about 17% more than the state’s average wage. Parker lamented that unfortunately, too many students in Faribault High School and even South Central don’t know about the wide variety of apprenticeships and career training programs that can help them get into high-demand, well-paying careers.

It’s a challenge that Faribault High School Service Learning Coordinator Brian Coleman also struggles with. Recently, the High School has worked with local businesses and even altered its daily class schedule in hopes of increasing opportunities for students to check out manufacturing-related opportunities.

A particularly impactful example of this collaboration took place this year during manufacturing week. Thanks to collaboration from numerous state and regional organizations, more than 500 high school and college students got the chance to tour manufacturing plants across southeast Minnesota and learn more about the industry.

MRG Tool and Die President Rodney Gramse, who chairs Faribault’s Economic Development Authority, emphasized the importance of the K-12 educational system in increasing the supply of qualified workers. Gramse said that schools need to come out of high school with, if not a comprehensive career plan, at least a clear idea of the wide range of job opportunities that exist.

“There should be a focus on career education, starting at grade 5,” said Gramse. “When you get to eighth, ninth grade, we should be talking about careers in every class.”

In addition to training and apprenticeship programs, Voracek highlighted the importance of addressing the city’s other needs, such as housing and transportation, in order to make the city more livable. The city is currently struggling with a significant housing shortage, which much of the city’s Community 2040 vision is designed to address.

“Whether people are coming out of high school or other places, there’s lots of efforts to get employees into Faribault,” said Voracek. “We’ve got to figure out how to get employees into Faribault and then how to get them into the Apprenticeship PIPELINEs.”

Reach Reporter Andrew Deziel at 507-333-3129 or follow him on Twitter @FDNandrew.

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