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Franken using Alexandria as model for filling U.S. worker 'skills gap'

U.S. Senator Al Franken (left) was at Alexandria Technical and Community College (ATCC) on August 28 listening to partnership success stories from a group representing local manufacturing companies, health care, business and education. Lynette Kluever (right)of Alexandria Industries explained the value of working with ATCC to train and advance their workers. Jan Doebbert (center) of ATCC explained that the school continues to partner with local industries. (Amy Chaffins/Echo Press)

U.S. Senator Al Franken was in Alexandria Wednesday to talk about legislation that will promote partnerships between businesses and community colleges to address a "skills gap" in the country.

However, the senator did more listening than touting during his visit.

"I brag about Alexandria all the time and use you as an example of what a partnership between industry and a community college can do in terms of jobs and economic development," Franken said.

The "Community College to Career Fund Act" is intended to help close the skills gap, where jobs go unfilled because businesses cannot find workers with the right skills, by fostering partnerships between community and technical colleges and businesses to train students to fill high-demand jobs in Minnesota and across the country.

According to a news release, the act will create partnerships between two-year colleges and businesses to train 2 million Americans for jobs in high-demand industries, such as health care, advanced manufacturing, clean energy and information technology.

The act will create a competitive grant program that will fund partnerships between businesses and two-year colleges to address the skills gap. The partnerships will focus on job training-related efforts, on-the-job training opportunities and paid internships. By training local workers in the skills businesses need, it will also help communities, especially rural communities, keep local talent in their community, according to Franken's office.

Wednesday morning, at Alexandria Technical and Community College (ATCC), Franken sat with a group of about 20 people representing local manufacturing companies, health care, business and education.

Franken said, "Alexandria is way ahead of the curve and is the model for what I want to do. But, it feels like Alexandria, even though it's ahead of the curve, could use this kind of plan, and actually might be in a really good position in a competitive grant system to get it. We do have a skills gap, a lot of baby boomers are retiring, there will be jobs to fill and yet we have unemployment."

Lynette Kluver of Alexandria Industries told Franken about their partnership with ATCC, "The impact it's had on our organization has been absolutely huge. The partnership with the technical college has been critical to our success." She said the school's customized training has allowed Alexandria Industries to differentiate itself in its market.

Franken also took note and praised Alexandria School District 206's efforts with its academies concept set to launch next fall at Alexandria Area High School.

He said, "I think this is one of the most important things that can happen; that high school students understand the nature of work. And, very often, it is that two-year technical or community college education that provides that pathway... to a career."

Franken noted that, ultimately, the goal of the Community College to Career Fund Act is to help address college affordability, economic development and global competitiveness.

Amy Chaffins

Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota.

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