Training for a better future

  • Article by: NEAL ST. ANTHONY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 10, 2012 - 9:16 PM

Commerce Secretary John Bryson came to town to applaud MnSCU's growing program to match employers with skilled workers.

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U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson, right, spoke with high school student Philip Mestenhauser, left, and Dean of Academic Affairs Michael Coleman on Friday during a tour of the Minneapolis Community Technical College machine shop. Bryson said: “We are 100 percent focused on jobs.”

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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A couple of small Minnesota manufacturers, flanked by employees, students and elected officials, came to Minneapolis Community Technical College on Friday to tell a former Fortune 500 CEO that they need more skilled machinists, welders and computer operators to meet their expanding production needs.

Kimberly Arrigoni, president of Oakdale-based Haberman Machine, and Erick Ajax, the boss at E.J. Ajax & Son of Fridley, got an audience with U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson, who came to Minneapolis to applaud the state university system's growing industry partnership designed to produce ready-to-go workers for high-tech manufacturing, health care and electronics jobs.

"We just hired 10 [machinists] and we need another 10 employees," Arrigoni said.

Mike Palm, a two-tour Iraq war veteran with the Minnesota National Guard and an MCTC graduate, told President Obama's point man on business that he's making $23 an hour building next-generation heating and cooling equipment at Thermo King in Bloomington.

Altheaha DrePaul, a graduate of Hennepin Technical College, is a veteran machinist who makes about the same at Fridley-based Ajax.

Bryson, former CEO of Edison International, noted that expansion and training of hundreds of local students at area technical schools, including laid-off workers who needed new skills, was financed by the 2009 federal economic-stimulus bill. Bryson also applauded industry support and donations of late-model equipment in the shop areas that are clustered in the basement of the Loring Park neighborhood's two-year college.

"CEOs tell us they need skilled workers to power their companies," Bryson said. "We are 100 percent focused on jobs."

Bryson said his visit should be considered an acknowledgment that Minnesota -- which had an unemployment rate of 5.7 percent in December, nearly 3 percentage points below the national rate -- is still a leader in job training and development, despite downturns in state funding for community colleges in recent years.

The Obama administration supports Minnesota and other efforts to increase the number of students studying science, math and engineering, which feeds the manufacturing, medical products and health care industries that also are the biggest source of fast-growing U.S. exports.

Bryson added that the Obama administration is pleased with declining unemployment that has meant 3 million new jobs over the last couple of years, more than 10 percent of which are in manufacturing. He said the administration will resist Republican efforts to cut job-training programs.

The nation has another 3 million-plus jobs to replace before it can get back to employment levels prior to the 2008-09 recession.

Philip Mestenhauser, a senior at South High, is taking machining courses at MCTC as part of coursework for what he expects to be a four-year degree in manufacturing engineering.

He told the secretary: "We have to show people how cool it is to work on machines. A machinist is involved in just about everything that is manufactured."

Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144 • nstanthony@startribune.com

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