Are high school students the answer to worker deficit?The complete package. That is what Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) Chancellor Steven Rosenstone said employers expect of graduates. There is no evading a high demand to fill vacant manufacturing positions, especially in our region of the state. As the jobs have progressed over the years, so too has the skill set needed to successfully perform the duties of the previously labor intensive roles. Communication skills, a firm grasp on the English language, teamwork and problem solving skills are sought by today’s employers.
By: Crystal Dey, Alexandria Echo Press
The complete package. That is what Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) Chancellor Steven Rosenstone said employers expect of graduates. Rosenstone was a keynote speaker at the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC) fall conference Friday, November 16 at Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center in Alexandria.
There is no evading a high demand to fill vacant manufacturing positions, especially in our region of the state. As the jobs have progressed over the years, so too has the skill set needed to successfully perform the duties of the previously labor intensive roles. Communication skills, a firm grasp on the English language, teamwork and problem solving skills are sought by today’s employers.
Rosenstone said MnSCU is working on fundamental new ways to partner with the Legislature to acquire funding for education and addressed the need to get students out the door faster.
“College can’t be a 12-year project,” Rosenstone said. “More students have to cross that finish line, and they have to cross it faster.”
Rosenstone held 50 listening sessions across the state during six months to see what is missing, why there is a worker shortage at the same time as a high unemployment rate.
He learned that companies that have a shortage of qualified workers want employees who have experience and on the job training. Manufacturing, health care, information technology, engineering, energy, transportation, agriculture and production were among the sectors polled.
The information gathered has led to a set of proposals that Rosenstone said will be brought forward during the next legislative session.
Access to and affordability of education are two areas Rosenstone plans to tackle. Rosenstone said the economic times of the last five years have produced more need for financial aid.
Rosenstone said the amount of debt most students are left with after college is often inflated into the $30,000 to $50,000 range when reported. While that may be true of some private institutions, on average a student graduating from a MnSCU school will owe $1,167 for a certificate program, $7,208 for an associate’s degree and $15,300 for a bachelor’s degree.
A “modest” tuition increase of $145 for fulltime students was mentioned during his CGMC talk.
“We need to bring more students into higher education,” Rosenstone said. “Not just the 19-year-olds coming out of college but more workers.” He added that students need to come out of high school better prepared for college level classes.
Rosenstone said high schools and higher education need to work together to make concurrent enrollment via post-secondary programs more common. More teachers in high schools qualified to teach college level courses could advance students’ college careers while saving money. Beginning assessment of students as early as 8th grade could identify problem areas sooner so all students can be prepared for college level courses, according to Rosenstone.
Rosenstone said schools in Anoka and Brainerd are beginning to advance in this direction and could see as much as 70 percent of the graduating class in three years walking across the stage with a diploma in one hand and an associate’s degree in the other.
“Think about the efficiency to the state of Minnesota if we spend those dollars once, not twice,” Rosenstone said.
In the same token, he said not everyone needs a baccalaureate degree. Better efforts need to be made to get information out to the high schools, Rosenstone said. If students enjoy working with their hands, there are jobs out there that match their skills.
MnSCU’s legislative proposal includes raised scholarship funds, matching funds and increasing internships and apprenticeships. Rosenstone said MnSCU plans to produce $44 million in efficiencies which would help extend the dollar for dollar match request. The changes proposed in the next legislative session are planned for next fall.
“I don’t think this is fantasy, I don’t think this is just some pipe-dream for MnSCU,” Rosenstone concluded. “I think this is all doable.”