Enterprise Minnesota Magazine - June 2012
HELPING MANUFACTURERS GROW PROFITABLY
Creating a Winning Workforce in Minnesota
Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Chancellor Steven Rosenstone shares candid insights on closing the skills gap, the importance of partnering with industry, and his plan for making and keeping the MnSCU system relevant to Minnesota businesses.
When Steven Rosenstone was installed as Chancellor of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities last August, workforce was the first thing on his mind. “Students, families, businesses and communities across our state are counting on the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities – more than ever – to meet Minnesota’s pressing need for a better-educated workforce,” he said, adding that by 2018, 70 percent of the jobs in Minnesota will require postsecondary education.
In a recent interview, Rosenstone sat down with Enterprise Minnesota President and CEO Bob Kill to discuss the current skills gap, the MnSCU system’s diverse and growing industry and community partnerships, and his unfolding plan to transform the MnSCU system to continually serve the specific and evolving needs of Minnesota businesses.
Enterprise Minnesota: In your leadership of MnSCU, what are the challenges of running this very large and complex organization, while also maintaining its community connections?
Chancellor Rosenstone: Well, I’m not a command and control guy. It doesn’t work. Centralizing more decisions in this building and trying to micromanage the innovation and creativity and quality that needs to exist on every single campus is not a path to success.
Instead, all of us must be pointing in the same direction. We have agreement about the direction we’re pointing in, based on the consensus that was built with all the presidents from all the campuses. We need to create the incentives and rewards for people accomplishing what it is we’re saying we’re trying to accomplish, and then let people do their thing. The needs of Northwest Minnesota are not the same needs as in Rochester or in the metro area. The industry mix is different; the employer mix is different; the students are different; the resources and densities are different. And, what it means to meet workforce needs or provide extraordinary education will be fundamentally different. It’s important to hold the presidents accountable for getting there, for sure, but don’t try to run it all.
I think the other part of the puzzle is, how do we work together better as a system? If there is going to be a big difference between what MnSCU was like when I arrived in August and what MnSCU will look like in four or five years, we’ll be playing more as a team than we have ever done. That teamwork comes in how we run all the business side of the operation so that it’s one team and many campuses, as opposed to many campuses and many teams.
Part of it is just the whole approach to the complexity and magnitude of the system: 420,000 students under 31 presidents at 54 sites around the state. I can’t micromanage it. I have to have great trust in great leaders and great presidents, incent them to do the right thing, make sure the rewards are aligned with the outcomes we’re trying to produce, focus aggressively on the outcomes, and let them do their job.
EM: Sometimes, it appears that some of the two-year and four-year institutions are competing instead of collaborating. How can you help these schools work together more closely for the benefit of students and local businesses?
Chancellor Rosenstone: Well, I think they are working more closely. St. Cloud and Bemidji would be examples where I think we have tremendous collaboration. Of those that graduate with a baccalaureate degree from one of our seven universities, 49 percent of those students have been in more than one institution by the time they graduate. One of the whole founding philosophies of the system was, let us create this seamless pathway between those who start in a two-year institution and those that will finish with a baccalaureate or masters or applied doctorate degree.
I think the real opportunity lies in how we put the pieces together more powerfully. For example, in St. Cloud, the students that are at the university in mechanical engineering have some of their classes at the technical college because of the kind of facilities that are in place at a technical college that don’t exist at the university. If we can take some of the more theoretical work that’s being done with the university and put it together with the applied work being done with the technical colleges, then we can make magic happen, because students are going to have an understanding of both worlds, not just an understanding of one set of knowledge. But that’s still a project in the works. We’re not there yet.
EM: You recently initiated a statewide listening tour. What drove you to do this, and what will you do with the results?
Chancellor Rosenstone: It became very clear to me as I went on my own listening tour over the past year, doing now over 8,000 miles around the state, that a core business—if not the core business—of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities is preparing people for the work that needs to be done in Minnesota.
We look at our responsibility for preparing the workforce of professionals to lead Minnesota going forward. How are we going to close the skills gap? How are we going to make sure that we’re preparing the workforce with the skills and talents—both fundamental skills and applied skills—that are necessary for a prosperous Minnesota? We could sit back and try to make up the answer to that question and pretend we know our faculty and academic leadership knows the answer to that question, or we could actually ask our partners. So, the starting place for making sure we’re doing it right is to make sure we have a much deeper understanding than I think we currently do of what those needs are. In many places, we do. But I think in other places, we need to deepen those partnerships.
It’s more than looking at the DEED projections of worker supply and demand going forward. We need to have a more nuanced understanding of what the precise skill sets are, where people see their industry going, where people think the demand is going to rise faster than what’s on the radar screen, and where they see certain sectors not growing, perhaps, as fast as others. When we have that kind of nuanced understanding, in addition to the data from DEED, we’re in a position to realign our academic programs, both the number of programs we have, what they’re doing, and the quality of the graduates that they’re turning out in a way that will meet the mandate that we have from the good people of Minnesota.
This is not a one-shot deal. It’s a new way of doing business. These conversations have to both deepen the ongoing relationships and be ongoing conversations because it’s going to be changing faster that any of us can imagine. If we’re not there with a relationship that allows us to have the kind of ongoing understanding of what the changing needs are, we’ll be skating to where the puck was, rather than where it’s going to be.
EM: If you could leave one message about your listening tour for the business community, what would it be?
Chancellor Rosenstone: Tell us what’s on your mind. By the end of this listening tour, I don’t want any business in Minnesota to say, ‘Well, no one asked me what we need.’ If we can’t get feedback on where the gaps are, then we can’t deliver. The people best equipped to tell us are the people out there in the business industry trying to get the job done.
EM: You were quoted as saying that you don’t lead by anecdote but by a “systematic assessment.” Is the listening tour a part of that systematic assessment?
Chancellor Rosenstone: All of the results we get out of this listening tour will be posted in an organized assessment from the business community for each region and each sector. The information will be available to all of our institutions and all other higher education institutions. It will be available to all policymakers and legislators. It’s not just a private MnSCU deal. It’s meant to be a resource for the entire state.
I can’t tell you right now whether it leads to new policy, either by our board or by the state of Minnesota. It will lead to new behavior on our part, and the changes we’ll dig in and start making this coming fall. Legislators are welcome to listen, and we’ll certainly be sharing all of the results in a very public way, so that everybody in Minnesota has an appreciation of what we need to try to accomplish.
EM: What is MnSCU’s role in making high school students aware of the great careers out there for which they do not have to have a four-year degree?
Chancellor Rosenstone: Eighty-five percent of all the new jobs being created between today and 2018 will require post-secondary education, with less than half of them requiring a baccalaureate degree, to your point. We’ve got to make sure that the information that we’re gathering from these assessments gets back into the high schools. Because if we don’t solve the pipeline problem, we could have a great understanding of what the needs are; we could have all of the right programs and the right facilities, and empty classrooms. That’s one of the dilemmas we face right now.
In many places where there is a desperate need for talented workers, it’s not a problem of us not being able to increase the capacity to deliver. It’s a problem of not having bodies to fill those classes. So, one of the things that I’m working on with Commissioner Brenda Cassellius and with Director of Minnesota Office of Higher Education Larry Pogemiller is a different alignment of grades 11, 12, 13 and 14.
There are a couple of pieces there. One is to make sure that we have a better assessment of the academic readiness of students earlier on. Right now, the measure of high school readiness completion and the measure of academic readiness for higher education are not even talking to each other. That’s why we have all this remedial education going on at the college level that really should have occurred earlier on. As you would say in manufacturing, you can either correct the problem after the manufacturing process has been completed, or you can design the process to get it right the first time. So, we’ve got some redesign to do to get it right the first time.
In addition to an academic assessment of college readiness, let’s also do an assessment that alerts students to their skills, passions and interests and then align those skills, passions and interests with the kinds of jobs that are available in Minnesota that are going to be well-paying, life-sustaining jobs. Not everybody should be on the path to a B.A. in philosophy. Minnesota will be in deep trouble if we have everybody getting a B.A. in philosophy. But finding the right path for each student based on a deeper understanding of her passions, interests and skills, as the kind of work that needs to be done in Minnesota, I think, is part of the alignment that we need to create.
The other part of it is that technical education has fallen off the radar screen of high school students as it has been decimated in high schools around the state. The answer is not to go rebuild it. The answer is to build deeper partnerships between our technical colleges and those high schools.
In many cases, our technical colleges are partnering already with the high schools. They’re running summer programs, they’re running weekend programs, and they’re bringing students to campus to get their appetite whet for this kind of work. I think that’s a terrific place where we can be partnering with industry to create a one-week workshop where students are brought into industry to see what the robotics of manufacturing look like, to get them interested in how they can get that kind of job.
EM: Do you think the listening tour will be helpful in creating new programs to create a passion around new careers for working adults, as well as careers for students?
Chancellor Rosenstone: Yes, absolutely. We also hope that we’re going to learn from our listening tour where the hot, new industries are likely to grow in Minnesota, where the startups are, and where we want to be thinking about as a system. How do we take some risks, along with the risks that businesses are taking, to invest in the kind of training programs necessary for those new industries to take off? Certainly, some of the green industries in Minnesota over the last decade are good examples.
But we also have a huge responsibility through programs like FasTRAC to take displaced workers and get them ready for the new careers that will be out there. That’s a place where we must work very aggressively in partnership with business.
The other piece of this lies in customized training programs. We have 6,000 partnerships with businesses around the state to provide off and on-site training to about 125,000 employees every year. We need to make sure that we continue to be very responsive to the specific needs that a business has, so that their workers are ready for the new equipment that’s coming online, and we’re there to help do it in a very proactive way.
EM: In business, there is always a balance between immediate versus long-range goals when responding to a challenge. How will you strike that balance in your efforts to improve the MnSCU system?
Chancellor Rosenstone: What I’m hearing from employers is that it’s not just about the immediate skills to do the job of today. It’s about having these deeper capacities— these more fundamental skills—that will allow workers to grow and retool to take the four or five different jobs and careers they’re likely to have over the course of their lifetime. I think we need to be very sensitive to that deeper set of skills—the ability to think creatively, to work in teams, to understand the complexities of problems, to connect the dots of things that come together, and to be the innovator in the firm, not just the person running the machine in the firm. I think firms are also very interested in that kind of talent. Sometimes it’s called ‘soft skills,’ but I would call it more fundamental skills. Just going to the quick fix of turning out the person that can run today’s machine is not, I think, delivering what I also hear businesses looking for, which is these deeper, more fundamental capacities. That’s a little harder to turn on a dime, but I think it’s a part of what our responsibility is: to turn out people that will be there for the long run, and have the capacities to reinvent themselves as work changes.
If you think about just the changes in the last decade, and then imagine that those changes are going to occur at not just 10-year intervals now, but at two or three-year intervals, and then at one-year intervals, that’s the pace at which people need to have agility. Otherwise, a firm will just be recycling people, as opposed to allowing people to grow, and they won’t be the kind of asset that I think they need to be.
EM: Will you personally attend some of the listening sessions?
Chancellor Rosenstone: Yes. I have two or three on the calendar so far. I plan to be there in the back of the room listening like everyone else.
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