M - Powered Workforce
Shaped with continuous input from local companies, Hennepin Technical College's M-Powered program puts students on the fast track to a lifelong career in Minnesota's manufacturing industry.
The M-Powered Business Advisory Committee helps keep class material relevant to industry needs. Front row from left to right: Anne Maimares (Medtronic-ATS Medical), Andrea Peterson (HIRED), Jeff Witz (Marshall Manufacturing), Brian Walli (St. Jude Medical), Judy
Swanson (HIRED), Joe Fredkove (Hennepin Technical College). Back row from left to right: Nancy James (HIRED), Mike Schaitberger (DEED), Matt Leaf (Hennepin Technical College), Red Heitkamp (Remmele Engineering), Erick Ajax (E.J. Ajax & Sons), Tony VanDanacker (Meier Tool
& Engineering), Craig Lofstuen (RevZero), Katherine Sellner (Hennepin Technical College).
As a possible shortage of skilled workers looms on the horizon for Minnesota's manufacturers, Hennepin Technical College is doing something to alleviate its impact through a program called M-Powered, a fast-track training program for students interested in manufacturing.
Sustained by a string of grants, most recently a $2.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, M-Powered is demand-driven and employer focused, designed to give students the specific training and skills to walk into an entry-level technician position at one of a handful of
manufacturers in Minnesota.
The program began in 2005 in response to early concerns by manufacturers over predicted shortages of skilled workers.
"Precision manufacturing companies were telling us, 'we are in the race of our lives for finding skilled talent,'" says Rich Kelly, director of manufacturing quality and productivity customized training at Hennepin Technical College. "Many companies have developed a
highly-skilled workforce, but a high percentage of these workers are nearing retirement age."
M-Powered initially offered training for precision metal stamping technicians, then computer controlled micro-machining technicians. It has since expanded to include training and certification for biotech-oriented technician positions including R&D lab process,
qualityprocess and manufacturing process. The program keeps material relevant to employers' needs through monthly business advisory committee meetings with leaders from E.J. Ajax & Sons, Marshall Manufacturing, Medtronic, Meier Tool & Engineering, Remmele Engineering and St.
The three-level program, which is independent of other Hennepin Technical College programs, can be completed in various amounts of time according to students' availability. While some sessions are completed in five months, others take a more leisurely pace. It begins with
Manufacturing Fundamentals, a 180-hour course that teaches shop math, blueprint reading, use of hand measuring tools, metallurgy, shop safety and basic OSHA regulations. Students then move into Specialized Lab, a 240-hour hands-on course taught by industry professionals in one of
five career pathways. In the third level, students receive 480 hours of structured on-the-job training at a local manufacturer. Upon graduation, 93 percent of the more than 250 M-Powered graduates to date have been offered permanent jobs with the company.
Not all students are new to manufacturing. Some are incumbent workers who are looking for technical skills and knowledge training that will help them move up at their companies. Joe Fredkove, director of training and business development at Hennepin Technical College, believes
having incumbent workers in class encourages students new to the industry because they can ask questions and learn about the benefits of a career in manufacturing from those who are already there.
"We've had such great success with that balance of brand-new people sitting in the same class with incumbent workers who already have a job. It creates motivation like you could not believe," Fredkove says.
And for employers, it creates a talented pool of workers. Erick Ajax, vice president of precision metal stamping manufacturer E.J. Ajax and Sons, has hired 12 workers from the program. "The employers benefit because we're able to hire really skilled individuals who can
create value for our customers. M-Powered is the only place that I've hired any new employees in the last five years. We think that much of it," he says.
Craig Lofstuen, vice president of technology and sales development for precision machining company RevZero, has just made his first M-Powered hire. He says the program transcends industry competition, instead fostering a spirit of "coopetition" among Minnesota's
manufacturers. "I really believe that we're all in this together," Lofstuen says. "We realize that the success of our industry depends on supporting worker training and being a part of that. The barriers are basically broken down here and we work together to support the
industry as a whole."