New Consortium Addresses Skill Development in Advanced Manufacturing
The Manufacturers Consortium (TMC) is a new association in the North West Metro joining members of Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), local manufacturing businesses, and higher education institutions, including Hennepin Technical College and North Hennepin Community College. Together, we’re developing a Technical Internship Proposal that focuses on two goals: employee skill development and skilled employee acquisition. The National unemployment rate dropped below five percent, and the Twin Cities unemployment rate is below four and a half percent. Employers need to take an active role in acquiring and training talent. We were asking, “How do we get the skilled employees that we need?” But that was an incomplete picture. We also have to ask, “How do we give our employees those skills?”
Bridging the Gap
Training and education for skills in high-demand, well-paying careers is critical, and students face real-life challenges when trying to balance work, school and family responsibilities. Hennepin Technical College, for example, has 45 degree programs and a job placement rate of around 97%—which is incredible. But only about half of the students that enroll graduate. We needed to bridge that gap. We looked and saw that their average age is about 29 years old. These aren’t high school students starting fresh. Many of them are established adults with families of their own. It can be difficult to fit school around those responsibilities. Adding in the cost of tuition and the challenge of scheduling, continuing education can be prohibitive. Our approach had to be unique—to recognize that when people start school, they need a job and support to help them through.
Each member of the Consortium fulfills a role. The businesses supply the jobs. The schools supply the education. If there are grants or scholarships available, we get people connected with them. Design Ready Controls will have a couple positions in both production and engineering that they’ll hand to The Consortium to fill. For example, Design Ready Controls will provide students with hands-on experience in electrical assembly, robotics, drafting, 3D modeling, etc.
Students attend classes and come here for practical, paid experience. They have the opportunity to earn while they learn.
Those joining the program will also receive certain benefits. This includes access to specific grants otherwise unavailable, such as the Minnesota PIPELINE Program (Private Investment, Public Education, Labor and Industry Experience). The PIPELINE provide funding for employers to create dual-training opportunities for their current employees. Combine the PIPELINE with a tuition reimbursement program, and students can potentially see the majority, of not all, of their school paid.
Plan of Progression
TMC students will also have a Plan of Progression to guide their progress through school and work. At the beginning of the program, students will start in a position that mirrors their skill level. As their schooling progresses, so will their work responsibilities, taking on more challenges as their skills develop. No stagnation. It’s even possible students could, at a certain point, change positions from one manufacturer to another, diversifying their work experience.
TMC Breaks Barriers for Students
There are other ways The Manufacturers Consortium helps students balance school and work loads. One is the option of flexible scheduling. Schools and employers participating in TMC work together to address student scheduling needs. Going forward, we hope to collaborate with the schools of TMC so that future programs can be built and scheduled with student needs in mind. For instance, many classes require hands-on experience, but some future courses could be hybrid—or even completely—online. We’re also working with the schools to bring program classes to the Northwest Metro. Several of our current employees have attended school courtesy of the PIPELINE project but found the commute from Brooklyn Park to Mankato—at more than an hour each way—was a real obstacle. Bringing classes closer, on a schedule that works for students, is another way TMC breaks barriers and sets students up for success.
TMC and Local Employers
We’ve already sent job descriptions to The Manufacturers Consortium to start filling next year’s seats in the program. We hope to have enough people in TMC so schools can align their programs to the needs of local employers. No guesswork. Schools will teach the skills that are needed by advanced manufacturers right now. From graduation day, they will have hands-on experience. They have the formal education. They are aware of our needs, and we can pair them to their specific skill sets. We can seamlessly transition them into our manufacturing environment—both to their advantage and ours. It works well, especially from a recruiting perspective. The labor market is tight and recruiters are expensive. Whenever possible, we want to grow talent ourselves. Students receive income, industry connections, and work experience as they train. Current employees gain valuable, high-demand skills and the opportunity for upward mobility. Everybody wins.