Which is exactly why the upcoming issue of Enterprise Minnesota® magazine will include insights from administrators at the state’s technical and community colleges. As producers of tomorrow’s skilled workforce, technical and community colleges play a critical role in the future of Minnesota manufacturing.

But as is the case with many other facets of society, higher education isn’t exactly in a flow state at the moment.

College enrollments were trending downward even before COVID hit. About a year ago before anyone heard the word “COVID,” 250,000 fewer students had registered for higher education than the year before — with 77,000 of that number coming from two-year colleges. That’s a decrease of about 11%. Our round table discussion with administrators from four Minnesota technical colleges confirmed that trend. While some were seeing a late surge at the time of our interview, most were experiencing substantial hits to their enrollments.

The picture for higher education funding hasn’t been a rosy one, either. M State Community and Technical colleges asked for $246 million from the most recent legislative session but only received $81 million. With the state looking at a $2.4 billion budget deficit, one wouldn’t expect the state’s technical colleges to see a funding increase.

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But instead of complaining, I bet most Minnesota manufacturers expect colleges to compensate for that shortfall with creativity, and many of them will contribute good ideas.

Most manufacturers continue to struggle with workforce issues, especially in the COVID economy. In a State of Manufacturing® focus group we hosted this week, manufacturers candidly lamented that many jobs openings continue to go unfilled – in part, because government policies have made it more profitable for a potential employee to stay home.

But there is reason for optimism.

College administrators told us during the round table discussion that partnerships with area manufacturers have never been stronger.

South Central College in North Mankato, for example, initiated a welding program about five years ago and it grew slowly, working with some of the welding programs in the industry. Kellie McElroy Hooper, dean of career and technical education, told us the program got a boost when the state allocated funds for a building redesign, but it wasn’t enough. “At that point, she says, industry partners stepped up, gave us the money and we were able to build a state-of-the-art lab in that particular program, and some others, too.”

There’s also reason for optimism in how scrappy technical colleges have become. Faculty members who may not otherwise have embraced new technologies have, in the new COVID normal, come up with innovative ways to use virtual learning, even in disciplines that rely on hands-on teaching.

When our September issue of Enterprise Minnesota® magazine comes out this week, you’ll want to check out our deep dive conversation with technical college officials on page 34.

View Enterprise Minnesota magazine online.

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Events Calendar

September 17 – Sustaining Daily Dialogue (part II)
Join Greg Langfield for part 2 of his Continuous Improvement workshop on how to sustain your CI efforts for long term success. Online via Zoom  Learn more and register

September 9-13 – State of Manufacturing® Focus Groups
Manufacturing executives are invited to participate in the 2020 State of Manufacturing® Focus Groups. Choose a single session that fits your schedule, one hour in length. Online via Zoom  Learn more and register

September 23 – Elements of Managing a High Performing Business: ISO
Expert David Ahlquist will show you how a business management system like ISO can provide the framework to stay in control of your organization and navigate change. Online via Zoom  Learn more and register

October 6 – Strategically Navigating an Uncertain Future
Steve Haarstad, one of Enterprise Minnesota’s top strategy experts, will show you how to create or adjust your business strategy to weather the next 90 days. Online via Zoom  Learn more and register

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Industry News

Computer chipmaker SkyWater expansion ahead of schedule
The Bloomington-based contract manufacturer is constructing a third clean room, with construction ahead of schedule. SkyWater plans to begin producing chips from the new space by the end of 2021 . Sept. 8, Star Tribune  Read more

Marvin Windows started post-WWII and has grown to 16 locations
What began as a way to ensure good paying jobs in Warroad, MN after WWII has now grown into a national manufacturer of doors and windows with 5,500 employees. Sept. 8, Grand Forks Herald  Read more

A digital manufacturer looks at what’s next after COVID-19
Protolabs, an ecommerce-based provider of manufacturing services, finds that its digital-first approach is well suited to a time of changing market demand. Sept. 11, Digital Commerce 360  Read more

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