Editorial - Good jobs are out there; ATCC is helping to fill themDespite some of the negative talk one hears about the economy, job opportunities are out there. In the Alexandria area, for instance, there is a shortage of qualified workers for high-tech manufacturing jobs.
Despite some of the negative talk one hears about the economy, job opportunities are out there.
In the Alexandria area, for instance, there is a shortage of qualified workers for high-tech manufacturing jobs.
Bob Kill, president and CEO of Enterprise Minnesota, talked about the challenge of filling those kinds of jobs when he testified before a U.S. Senate panel this week.
Speaking before the Senate Subcommittee on Competitiveness, Innovation and Export promotion, which is chaired by Senator Amy Klobuchar, Kill said that manufacturing’s chronic shortage of qualified workers poses a significant and escalating challenge despite high national unemployment rates.
Enterprise Minnesota is a non-profit business consulting organization that helps small and medium-sized manufacturing companies, education service groups and government entities. It provided the following summary of Kill’s testimony:
Kill used data collected from this year’s State of Manufacturing poll to illustrate that anxiety over attracting qualified workers has more than doubled in the past year, with 31 percent of Minnesota manufacturing executives saying it is a concern, up from 14 percent in 2011.
“Rapidly changing technology...widens the gap between the sector’s existing workers and the skills that are needed in today’s manufacturing environments,” Kill told senators.
In the fourth quarter of 2011, the skills mismatch left 4,925 jobs unfilled in Minnesota’s manufacturing sector, accounting for 9.8 percent of the state’s job vacancies, he said. Nationally, there are approximately 600,000 vacant positions in manufacturing.
Kill said that Enterprise Minnesota has attempted to help narrow the skills gap in Minnesota by offering discounted services to manufacturers through the state-funded Growth Acceleration Program (GAP). GAP provides up to $1 of state money for every $3 a company invests. Participating companies have realized a $30 return for every $1 spent on GAP, and have created or retained a collective 1,700 jobs in Minnesota.
Kill concluded that attracting more students to industry careers will depend on the effectiveness of using public/private partnerships in exposing them to career opportunities in manufacturing.
“Public/private collaborations of manufacturers – with the community leaders, with the educators and with the parents – will lead to us creating the next generation of manufacturers,” Kill said in an interview held minutes after delivering his testimony. “The visibility Senator Klobuchar is bringing to that topic is very important.”
A good example of the partnerships Kill was referring to can be found in the relationships the Alexandria Technical and Community College has forged with local manufacturing companies and the local K-12 education system. The college works closely with local companies, providing students with intensely focused two-year degrees that match the skill sets that are in demand.
The state should be doing more to encourage those partnerships by making higher education a higher priority in its budget. Since 2006, state funding to community and technical colleges has dropped from $3,830 per student to $2,948.
That needs to change. The state Legislature should view funding to higher education not as a cost but as an investment – one that will produce good, high-paying jobs that will benefit the state’s entire economy.