I don’t mind admitting that Joe Mulford, president of Pine Technical & Community College, is among the most fascinating personalities I’ve encountered in this job. He is an idea machine, he knows his mission, he thinks continually about the value his school provides for students, and he understands his role in his community. Mulford’s mix of passion and expertise are two reasons we value his role as a member of Enterprise Minnesota’s board. But these reasons are also why we are particularly enthused that the next publication of our annual State of Manufacturing® (SOM) survey will feature a focus group panel of college presidents.

The SOM retains one of America’s top public opinion pollsters to annually conduct a statistically valid survey of Minnesota’s small and medium-sized manufacturers. We augment this objective research by conducting between 14 to 18 focus groups around the state. These interviews primarily consist of manufacturers, but we’ve also discovered intriguing insights by recruiting separate groups of students, parents, and high school guidance counselors.

This year, we’ll interview a selection of college presidents who represent the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System, with a particular emphasis on the executives who lead technical colleges.

We think a group interview with college presidents will be particularly relevant as manufacturers grapple with how their ability to attract and retain employees—particularly skilled employees—affects their ability to grow profitably.

Past research has revealed how manufacturers look to post-secondary educators—particularly from technical colleges—as a resource for advice and assistance. We think input from college presidents through this focus group will significantly guide those conversations.

Their insights on how Minnesota’s manufacturers can help develop public/private partnerships—both in their communities and statewide—will help address skills development and the worsening crisis in employee availability. These challenges aren’t going away, and they certainly aren’t going to be solved solely by one-off plant tours or community job fairs, as valuable as these activities may be.

The real long-term solutions will likely require systemic changes about how manufacturers, their communities, and their educators view their ability to collaboratively sustain their local economies.

Technical colleges—and their presidents—are ground zero for that discussion.

These focus groups will also give manufacturers a glimpse into the complicated realm of college administration. While college presidents are naturally inclined to quickly react to manufacturers’ recommendations and insights, the financial and internal administrative hurdles college presidents face to enacting anything will give everyone empathy for what they are up against.

Featured story in the Winter 2019 issue of Enterprise Minnesota magazine. 

Return to Winter 2019 magazine