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Commentary: Great jobs without a four-year degree

Around 50 percent of Minnesota high school graduates start down a four-year college route, yet only 22 percent of jobs in the state require a baccalaureate degree or more.

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By Catrin Wigfall, Center of the American Experiment, Golden Valley, MN

Minnesota needs its leaders to buckle down on solving the workforce shortfall threatening our state’s prosperity and our labor force. With Baby Boomers retiring, there is an urgency to attract young people into industries that make up Minnesota’s economic backbone including manufacturing, construction, agriculture, energy and health care.

But there’s a perfect storm in our state’s talent development pipeline. Around 50 percent of Minnesota high school graduates start down a four-year college route, yet only 22 percent of jobs in the state require a baccalaureate degree or more, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

How do we encourage young people — and their parents — to consider alternative pathways outside of a four-year degree? How do we properly train those who are keen to use their talents in these sectors?

Center of the American Experiment’s “Great Jobs Without a Four-Year Degree” project is reaching young people and their parents through its video series that highlights skilled technical positions and the exciting and well-paying career opportunities they offer. By sharing real stories of Minnesotans working in manufacturing, construction and similar fields, viewers see the stigmas often associated with these jobs collapse.


These jobs are not low-intellect jobs for people who aren’t very bright and can’t find work elsewhere. People often choose these fields because of the creative and cognitive demands. These jobs are lucrative positions that can establish financial independence at a young age, and above all, help people avoid crippling student debt. These jobs do not require workers to perform a single task at a single station for 30+ years on end without variation. And these jobs often provide a deep sense of meaning. People like being part of something bigger than themselves, and in these fields, they often find that depth and significance.

Efforts to address these misconceptions are crucial, and it is important Minnesota’s future plans include further state-wide workforce initiatives to attract and retain the skilled talent our state demands.

Join me on Wednesday, September 25 in Alexandria to discuss the demands of a changing workforce and what this means for Greater Minnesota. I will highlight our “Great Jobs” project, the successes of young people in technical careers, and lead a panel of local leaders who will explore how Alexandria can better attract and retain young talent. The event is free and open to the public.

Catrin Wigfall is a policy fellow at the Center of the American Experiment. For more information, go to .

Al Edenloff is the editor of the twice-weekly Echo Press. He started his journalism career when he was in 10th grade, writing football and basketball stories for the Parkers Prairie Independent.
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