Enterprise Minnesota Magazine - February 2012
HELPING MANUFACTURERS GROW PROFITABLY
Educating Tomorrow's Manufacturers
In a recent roundtable discussion, Presidents Jim Johnson, Keith Stover and Kevin Kopischke of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system sounded off on manufacturing’s visibility in the state’s education sector, and shared ideas for business community partnerships that will encourage more students to pursue industry careers.
Jim Johnson, President at Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical, and Kevin Kopischke, President at Alexandria Technical and Community College.
Bob Kill: I’d like to start by having everyone introduce themselves and their institutions. Keith, will you start us out?
Keith Stover: I’m Keith Stover from South Central College, and we have campuses in Faribault and North Mankato. My background in technical education started in 1971. I moved to Minnesota in 1999 to become the president of South Central College. During that period of time, we have really tried to ramp up what we do in the area of manufacturing. We cover all kinds of sectors of technical education, including agriculture. In manufacturing, we try to deliver state-of-the-art CNC programming on both of our campuses. We’ve created a new Center of Excellence on our North Mankato campus. That means we’ve got a large number of new pieces of equipment, which set us up for the opportunity to be a candidate for the Right Skills Now initiative, which came under the President’s Council on Jobs.
Bob Kill: Could you tell us more about the Right Skills Now initiative?
Keith Stover: Sure. The Right Skills Now initiative is all about doing an accelerated model for people to get into manufacturing careers. It’s about getting people off the unemployment rolls and into work, and a way to give young people an opportunity to do a quick study on a career. It’s a 16-week program, with half that time in manual machining and half in CNC machining, then an eight-week paid internship at a manufacturing site. We’ve got to find manufacturers and students, so we’re coordinating that with ACT and workforce centers, but it all comes out of the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington, D.C. NIMS [The National Institute for Metalworking Skills] is involved, too, because this is a credential model, so it will be about credit and stackable credentials.
Bob Kill: It’s a great program. Kevin, will you introduce yourself?
Kevin Kopischke: I’m Kevin Kopischke from Alexandria Technical and Community College. I actually started my career at the college as a student teacher a long time ago. My background is business and marketing and I think over the 50 years that we’ve been in business, we’ve built a partnership between the industry base and the community in the region and the college that is probably among the strongest in this part of the country.
We really work with our manufacturing partners in significant ways. We’re putting together the first apprenticeship program in the state this fall. It should be an opportunity to do something a bit different in terms of addressing the skills gap.
My perspective on this whole thing is that our pathway needs to be fixed. We have full manufacturing programs, yet we’re not putting enough people through those programs to fully meet the needs of manufacturers. But, we need young folks and transition adult students to be interested in them. We need to make them aware of the kinds of careers that are available. That is where we are spending a lot of our time. In fact, we are building a new high school, and just passed a $70 million bond referendum to do so in Alexandria. The community is working with the college and with industry representatives to decide, what should the manufacturing technology wing look like in this new high school? We’re going to put it right inside the front door, and it’s going to be a showplace for that type of a career focus because we need young people to look at these kinds of things and say, ‘You know what? There is a chance here for me to have a great career, live in a great area of the state of Minnesota, and make some pretty good money.’
Bob Kill: What could the companies themselves do to showcase the careers available as well?
Kevin Kopischke: They’ve done a number of things and I think they’ve really stepped up to the plate. They have put together some evening tours where we come to the college, have a meeting with parents and students, then move out to a business for a tour. We had a “careers in demand” conversation the other night at the college where eight industry representatives spoke to parents and to prospective students. We talked a little bit there about influencing the influencers. One of the biggest things that we need to be aware of is, how can we all do a better job of influencing the people who influence the young people? In many cases, those people are parents, high school teachers, and high school counselors, many of whom don’t have a clue about the manufacturing industry and have never been in a manufacturing plant.
We’ve also had some of the strongest advisory committees that I’ve seen in any school. We had a mechatronics advisory committee meeting last year and we had 28 people there from around the world. We actually had people from Germany and Italy at our mechatronics advisory committee meeting, which to me says that perhaps they’re looking at this place as a best-in-class education opportunity for young people and transitioning adults.
Bob Kill: Jim, can you introduce yourself as well?
Jim Johnson: My name is Jim Johnson. I began my career in vocational technical education in ’81 on the Winona Campus of Southeast Technical College. I was fortunate enough to become president in 1995. We really focus on transportation and manufacturing, and when you look at the program mix, along with all of those occupational areas, you have the support occupations as well, such as administrative support. Our college really tries to align the needs of local businesses and industries with the offerings that we have.
I agree with what Kevin said, that we need to have industry relationships. Advisory committees are important tools that we use to get out there and truly find out what is needed in the workforce, because our average student comes from a 15-mile radius of the college. Our placement rates are 94 percent or more. The value is that we train for the skill sets that are needed.
I also firmly believe that manufacturing is key to all the successes of our college. You have to have manufacturing in order to create wealth, which allows a lot of our other communities to grow and prosper.
Bob Kill: What is your definition of a STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] person as it relates to manufacturing?
Keith Stover: Well, the newest STEM program at our college is a transfer program that leads to engineering. But, the next newest program is our mechatronics program, which is a four-year-old program started by manufacturers. We didn’t have the start-up money, so they put all the $200,000 on the table to pay for the faculty to get that program off the ground. Once we put the faculty on duty, they wrote a $2 million grant as well. It was the first time in my 40-year history that we started a program with not one but two freshman sections.
Bob Kill: Have you seen a shift in what skills and experience manufacturers in your communities are looking for in new hires?
Jim Johnson: I see a significant portion of our local industry saying, we need the person who has math, communication, as well as problem solving skills. It’s absolutely critical that we offer those in our programs. Employers want somebody who has a background in science, and who can use math. In our industrial mechanics program, we have seen a growth in the number of students coming with prior post-secondary educational experience, because they have been out in the job market and they are saying, my employer needs this, or, I know that I need to pick up this additional skill.
Kevin Kopischke: We were selected by the Lumina Foundation and the Higher Learning Commission to be one of three two-year colleges in the country where they are piloting something called the Degree Qualifications Profile. They are looking at degrees and trying to identify skills that people need as they more from two-year degree programs into four-year degree programs.
You asked before about what STEM means. I think that STEM is not something in itself, but instead, STEM kind of defines the skill set that people need in almost any job, whether it’s in the IT industry, the business industry, the manufacturing industry or the healthcare industry. The manufacturing industry specifically told us that they need people who have applied skills: not just someone who can do math but who can do math while they machine a part. They need to solve problems. They need to work in teams. They indicated that they, the industry, will be able to take people to the next level in a technical way. But they need people who can be part of the organization—not just with the technical skills, but also with the applied skills. In fact, we renamed the term “soft skills” to be “essential skills.” We need people with essential skills, they said, and they defined those.
Bob Kill: We often talk about the need for parents to encourage sixth, seventh and eighth graders to consider manufacturing careers. But are there opportunities that we are missing in terms of people switching careers?
Keith Stover: We think the Right Skills Now initiative will get at that issue. But we’ve had a struggle with enrollment on our Faribault campus. Dakota County closed its machining program. Faribault’s was put into suspension a year ago, but Rochester closed its program, and Austin closed its program, so three programs are closed, probably forever. We are trying to do a re-start through this Right Skills Now initiative, thinking that there is an opportunity there in the short term in terms of accelerated instruction to turn some young people on to manufacturing careers.
But none of us know how we get at high school students. We’re trying to roll out a step program in Faribault like Anoka Technical College has, where there is a high school campus right on their campus.
I think we’re all struggling with the lack of ability for high schools to provide the electives that students really need in order to experience a broad cross section of careers. That struggle started in the 1980s with the Nation at Risk report. I had the opportunity to testify against that in South Dakota at the time, but it’s continued to roll out. Schedules for high school students are so locked up right now that they don’t have the flexibility to experience some of this. I know our chancellor and the new commissioner are talking about figuring out some simple ways to get kids connected to these careers.
Jim Johnson: In this economy with so many people in transition, we also have one of the first workforce centers on our campus in Winona. We’ve had that there since about 1997, and we are seeing more and more people in that 25-37 year range that are in transition. It has been a great way to get people engaged in manufacturing occupations.
Bob Kill: On the topic of learning from each other, what are some better practices that you have heard about that we might be able to take advantage of, either locally or across the state?
Jim Johnson: I think one of the key pieces that we’ve lost over the last 15 years is career counseling for our youth. I think Minnesota is probably one of the highest ratios of three or four counselors to maybe 300 or 400 students. How can you counsel as far as careers when you’ve got 400 students? One of the better things I think we could do is encourage high school counselors to talk about careers, not so much to drive students towards manufacturing, but more to simply give these kids exposure. I think one of the key things that we could do is to truly look at a much lower ratio of career counselors to students.
Kevin Kopischke: In terms of best practices, our faculty members have connections with high school faculty around the state and have connections with industry representatives. We also have a process on the admissions side where each and every student interested in coming to this college in Alexandria has an opportunity to sit down with a faculty member for an hour and move through the lab setting and the classrooms.
We find that our most successful programs have the faculty members who have worked the hardest and the longest in terms of making those things work out well. They are the faculty members who have put together manufacturing tour days, where we have 500 students from around the central part of the state visit for a day. They’re the people who put together Sophomore Sneak ’n’ Peek, where we have sophomores from around the central part of the state spend a day at the college looking at programs, just to get an idea early on as to some of the options out there. We’ve always said, if we can get these kids and adults into our classrooms and labs to see what we do, they’re going to come to school here.
Jim Johnson: It’s all about showing this is a clean and green environment. But what are manufacturers doing today to get this workforce shortage on the front page in the media? I don’t think collectively, we are doing anything. I think that is the biggest challenge facing us.
Bob Kill: Are other schools within the state college system equally focused on bringing attention to careers in manufacturing?
Kevin Kopischke: Twin Cities Public Television just put together a 30-minute documentary about the unique connections between the business industry and colleges. It was in three parts. One of them was about the southwestern part of the state, one of them was about Alexandria, and the other was about the northeastern part of the state. They are doing some pretty cool things up there. There are 17 high schools, five colleges, and 24 businesses in five industry sectors all on the Iron Range that are really working together to give young people an opportunity to get experience in and exposure to careers in the Iron Range workforce. It’s called the Applied Learning Institute, and they’ve been doing it for about five years.
Bob Kill: Do you have any final thoughts on improving manufacturing’s visibility?
Jim Johnson: I came here in 1981, and we used to have regional tech centers. High schools would send their kids off in the afternoon and they would have their industrial arts. That is a powerful model. As we look to the future, rather than trying to upscale some of these high schools, maybe we need to look at that again, collaborating with businesses. Because we’ve got to get these kids exposed to this type of education.
©2012, Enterprise Minnesota. All rights reserved.Reproduction encouraged after obtaining permission from EnterpriseMinnesota. Additional Magazines and reprints available for purchase.