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Column: Youth Skills Training will benefit local communities

By Barb Haley, Minnesota District 21A representative

With June already half over, summer is in full swing as area high school and college students enjoy some time away from the classroom. For area students looking to pursue careers in a skilled trade sector, great news was recently announced in St. Paul.

Last Friday, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry announced that a collaborative from Goodhue County, consisting of local school districts, Minnesota State Southeast and Red Wing Ignite, has been awarded a Youth Skills Training grant totaling $95,000.

The grant comes from DLI's Youth Skills Training program (YST @ DLI), which is designed to help develop and implement paid-learning opportunities in high demand fields for high school and college students. It aims to provide employment training for students by enabling partnerships between schools and industry in fields such as manufacturing, IT, and healthcare.

The grant program was established by bipartisan legislation that I co-authored and helped pass during the 2017 legislative session. Workforce development and enhancing career readiness opportunities for students have been top priorities of mine during my time in the Legislature, and I am proud to have helped make this program a reality for Goodhue County.

Here's a little background on how these dollars became available for our schools and manufacturers:

Once the legislation passed last May, DLI had six months to outline the program requirements and grant application process. I began working to build awareness of the opportunity and hosted a districtwide meeting last fall, inviting education and business leaders to introduce them to the initiative. At this half-day session, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development provided area manufacturers with statistics on regional workforce shortages and other resources, while DLI introduced the group to the grant. After this seminar, groups comprising the Goodhue County Collaborative came together and began their extensive work on the project.

How it works

Here's a quick overview of how the program will be implemented:

Each school will select 2-5 students to be a part of the first pilot. They will receive OSHA 10 training and soft skills training this fall, with business placement to follow in January. In the fall of 2019, the program will increase by an additional 30 students, meeting the pilot's total of about 50 students.

In addition to the invaluable paid worksite learning experience, participants will be exposed to pathway courses at Minnesota State College Southeast and participate in regular meetings with their educator/employer cohorts — there are many benefits of the program beyond students' time at the worksite.

I would like to express my gratitude for the commitment of the superintendents and school leaders, Minnesota State College Southeast and Red Wing Ignite, which was integral in ensuring this exciting opportunity for our students and schools. It was an honor to advocate for Goodhue County and partner with these important local stakeholders throughout this process.

As our state faces a shortage of skilled workers, the YST @ DLI grant program represents a crucial step in closing this workforce gap. These dollars will have a tremendously positive impact on private manufacturers and technical skills education throughout Goodhue County, benefitting high school students from Cannon Falls, Lake City, Red Wing, Goodhue and Kenyon-Wanamingo. It will be exciting to see the educational and employment opportunities that the grant will enable young people to experience.

Bonding bill boosts

In addition to last Friday's grant announcement, at the end of May, Governor Dayton signed into law the Legislature's bonding bill. The bill consists of $825 million to fund construction projects statewide, such as roads and bridges and water infrastructure. It also dedicates $25 million for critical school safety building upgrades.

For our communities specifically, the bonding bill funds a number beneficial projects. I authored several measures in the bill and secured needed funding for Wabasha's National Eagle Center, the Goodhue County Historical Society, the Mississippi Blufflands Trail and the Port Development Assistance Fund for improved boat dockage and waterway access in Red Wing and Wabasha.

This is all great news for our area; the YST @ DLI program will better prepare students for career opportunities and ensure manufacturers have the skilled workers they need, while the bonding bill will fund important projects to improve our infrastructure and tourism. As the program and the projects get underway, I am eager to see the benefits our communities will enjoy for years to come.