Business forum: Taking action to close the workforce skills gap

  • Article by: SARAH CARUSO and INEZ WILDWOOD
  • Updated: April 7, 2013 - 10:19 AM

Keeping Minnesota's reputation as the "brainpower state" requires commitment to training and education.

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Many of Minnesota's manufacturers report unfilled positions because of a lack of qualified applicants.

We’re proud to call ourselves Minnesotans because our state has long defined itself by three things: a strong work ethic, a dedication to education and a high quality of life.

Our historic prosperity is a result of being one of the most highly educated and highly skilled states in the country. Skills are good for business, which explains why we’ve attracted and grown more Fortune 500 companies per capita than any other state.

In turn, we have more good jobs, higher personal incomes and less poverty than most states. Businesses and people have historically done well here.

Despite this history, disparities persist. New technologies and globalization are reinventing occupations and creating new ones. Ten years ago, no one had ever heard of an “app developer.” Most machinists didn’t need postsecondary training in robotics and computer-numerical control systems to earn a good wage.

And so Minnesota faces a major challenge: the growing mismatch between the skills employers need and the skills our people have. That’s why we’ve launched the Skills@Work campaign — a statewide partnership to address local skills gaps and to position Minnesota for a prosperous future built by a world-class workforce.

In Minnesota, jobs increasingly require postsecondary education. In fact, along with North Dakota, Minnesota beats out every other state in the proportion of jobs that will require education beyond high school by 2018. We’re not talking only about bachelor’s degrees; in many areas the need is for associate degrees or short-term, technical or occupational certificates.

The recession has accentuated the urgent need for more skills. Many of the jobs shed over the last few years have been low-skill jobs that could either be outsourced or automated. Conversely, it’s projected that as many as 85 percent of all jobs created in the next decade will require some postsecondary education.

This is compounded by the retirement of the baby boomer generation and the fact that Minnesota has some of the greatest disparities in education and employment. Our incoming workforce is both smaller and more diverse. What this means is that the ill effects of the achievement gap and disparities in employment will increasingly be felt by all of us.

More than ever, Minnesotans need to develop a broad range of proficiencies — from technical skills to science and math — to succeed.

The same goes for Minnesota businesses. In the manufacturing sector, two-thirds of Minnesota employers rate a “high-performance workforce” as the No. 1 factor for success. Yet nearly half of those businesses reported unfilled positions due to lack of qualified applicants. Across all sectors and regions, national surveys mirror these findings.

Since June 2012, Skills@Work — led by Greater Twin Cities United Way and the Governor’s Workforce Development Council — has brought together more than 200 leaders from business, education, philanthropic and community organizations to create plans that address local skills gaps.

Working with the McKnight Initiative Foundations as hosts, we have helped identify objectives and strategies for seven regions around the state to improve their workforce and strengthen local economies.

In the Twin Cities, this work has created three distinct sector initiatives focused on health care and older adult services, information technology, and manufacturing — three industries vital to Minnesota’s future. These initiatives address the common needs of employers in each sector and generate coordinated solutions that benefit workers.

In greater Minnesota, regional teams are aiming to tackle a range of issues, including increasing experiential learning opportunities and improving career planning in high schools.

By improving our education and training systems, we help both businesses and workers. We can boost state economic growth and also help lift those who need it most out of poverty, which, in turn, helps improve the quality of life for all Minnesotans.

An education and training system that helps prepare all people for family-sustaining employment is critical to eliminating our state’s immense education and employment disparities, and to ensuring a strong, vital region.

We can get Minnesota’s economy working again for all Minnesotans, and all Minnesota businesses. Visit Skillsatwork.org to find out how your region is taking action to close the skills gap.

Now is the time to reclaim our heritage as the brainpower state.

About the authors: Sarah Caruso is president and CEO of Greater Twin Cities United Way. Inez Wildwood chairs the Governor’s Workforce Development Council. Go to

www.skillsatwork.org

for more information.

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