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Ready for work from the get-go

Young adults trying to break into advanced manufacturing want to work; businesses desperately want to hire qualified local talent.

Why not then, bring potential employers and employees together before the job interview?

A dedicated team of local leaders has come together to make sure that happens, drafting an application to be a pilot community for the new Youth Skills Training program.

The new program, administered by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, aims to increase local partnerships between schools and employers, with a focus on high demand jobs like advanced manufacturing. The program will be available to students between 16 and 22 years old.

"Youth Skills Training partnerships will provide related instruction and paid on the job training for students 16 years of age and over," explained project manager Rich Wessels, "The goal is to provide students with a safe and meaningful experience that includes training and exposure to high demand occupations."

State Rep. Barb Haley, R-Red Wing, co-authored the legislation which created the program. Haley is a longtime advocate for preparing students for a career in manufacturing.

"I am passionate about this topic. I believe we need to do more to provide kids with career pathways and exposure to work opportunities and technical training while they are in high school," Haley said. "We will also be better equipped to address workforce shortages."

The Youth Skills Training Program is being offered to Minnesota communities through a competitive grant process. Five communities will be chosen to pilot the program and receive a $100,000 grant to pay start-up costs.

Goodhue, Red Wing and more

With a storied manufacturing base, including the iconic Red Wing Shoe Co., Goodhue County hopes to present itself as a natural fit for the program. To lay the foundation for the program and draft the grant application, a local collaborative was formed.

"This opportunity is unique and well-timed," said Goodhue Superintendent Mike Redmond, who is leading the K-12 coordination. "The Youth Skills Training Collaborative is a true partnership. In today's rapidly changing world no one entity can do it all when it comes to providing excellence in learning experiences." Redmond hopes to eventually have a network of schools and employers across the county, matching students with prospective employers.

Neela Mollgaard, executive director of Red Wing Ignite, agrees. "We need to retain and grow our talent pipeline. In doing so, we'll be able to meet the needs of our regional businesses."

Red Wing Ignite is acting as a coordinator between area businesses and schools. According to Mollgaard and Redmond, the collaborative is focused on creating connections between schools and businesses, leading to a network across Goodhue County that matches students with prospective employers.

For other local partners, their optimism comes from the fact that all the important players are at the table.

"The beauty of this collaboration is that it is a collaboration," remarked Dr. Beth Borgen, director of support services for Red Wing High School. "People from so many entities are coming together to overcome barriers to make this happen."

Local college involvement

Students out of high school will have opportunities as well. "We plan to do everything we can to support this program," said Dr. Leslie Bleskachek, vice president of academic affairs at Minnesota State College Southeast. "We are working closely with area superintendents and industry partners to be a conduit between high school, college, and career for participating students."

For Redmond, the Youth Skills Training program is a way to give technically skilled students a running start toward their career.

"In recent years, we've blurred the lines between the end of high school and the start of four year college," Redmond said "This program is an attempt to do the same thing for students pursuing careers in technical fields."

The approach makes sense. After all, our communities need builders and welders as well as doctors and lawyers.

Grants will be awarded on June 8.