Hope for the skills gap
Pine Tech President Joe Mulford says the prospects are out there. Communities and manufacturers have to get to them earlier
By Lynn Shelton
Enterprise Minnesota's Director of Marketing and Legislative Relations
This year’s version of Enterprise Minnesota’s State of Manufacturing® survey taught us that there remains serious urgency about the depth and impact of the skills gap that concerns most manufacturers, and that there is also hope for a solution.
Among the 15 focus groups that we held this year to supplement the telephone interviews our pollster conducted with 500 manufacturing executives, we included five focus groups composed of students, three consisting of students at tech schools, and two at high schools. But one of the most hopeful notes arose in a discussion we facilitated at Pine Technical and Community College in Pine City.
During the discussion, college president Joe Mulford identified an opportunity for manufacturers and tech schools alike so they can find more prospects. Joe is one of our favorites here at Enterprise Minnesota (where he is a board member) because he is unafraid to roll up his sleeves and look for practical solutions.
In an effort to improve recruiting at his schools, Joe scoured student announcements at local newspapers to determine what high school students intended to pursue in the world of post-secondary education. In one newspaper he found that a whopping 40 percent of students were still undecided in the April before their graduation. These, he concluded, are prime targets who should be communicated with earlier about opportunities in manufacturing and other careers that don’t necessarily require a four-year degree.
That's where this got to be personal for me, he says. “On a personal level, we're not doing a good job.” If you look at a class with 120 students and just one guidance counselor for all of these kids, it’s “just bad math.” Joe started traveling to schools to make a presentation about the process of decision making. “I told them that life is probably not going to be overly kind if you're undecided or just kind of cruising.”
“It's about starting earlier in their senior year. That's their goal. They have to start making decisions at that point,” Mulford says. He advises school counselors to focus on the undecided students. In a class of 120, he says, probably 40 of them already know what they are going to do by the end of their junior year. “They're taken care of. It's starting to funnel that down to who are the higher-risk kids.”
He advises them to look at three schools, so a bad experience or circumstance or location won’t sour them on the whole experience.
“We have to give them a nudge,” he says.
And by “we” I assume he means the whole community. Manufacturers have made impressive progress in that regard. Their outreach and partnerships with local schools in places like Alexandria, Fergus Falls, White Bear Lake, Winona, St. Cloud, and Redwood Falls represent remarkable work. But even the most successful educators and manufacturers in those communities would say that it is only a beginning. We’re providing information; at least in President Mulford’s calculation, now we have to dig deeper and start communicating with prospects on a personal one-on-one level.
I have a feeling it’s going to happen.
The State of Manufacturing® 2017
Minneapolis - May 9
Owatonna - May 10
Fergus Falls - May 17
St. Cloud - May 18
Marshall - May 22
Bemidji - May 23
Hibbing - June 8
Learn more and register