Perfect timing.

On Monday, a new report argued that the United States is not paying enough attention to career and technical education, which prepares people for millions of good jobs. Two days later, the U.S. Department of Labor announced $500 million in grants for just that.

Minnesota's community and technical colleges will get $16 million. Central Lakes College, with campuses in Brainerd and Staples, will use $13.1 million to provide "accelerated training to meet the demand for advanced manufacturing skills," according to the department.

"It will really help us to expand our capacity," said Larry Lundblad, president of Central Lakes. "This past year in our machining program, we had four or five jobs for each student graduating."

There are 29 million middle-class jobs that don't require a bachelor's degree, according to Monday's report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Their average salary is $42,000.

But they require education beyond high school. That might be a two-year degree, a certificate or an apprenticeship.

"Compared to other advanced economies, the United States underinvests in sub-baccalaureate, career and technical education," Anthony Carnevale, the center's director, said in a statement.

The report argues that is "the missing middle ground."

Lundblad agrees. Manufacturers are hiring, he said, but now are looking for workers with credentials "above and beyond the high school diploma." With the grant, Central Lakes and three other colleges will work with more than a dozen employers to ready people for careers in advanced manufacturing and upgrade current employees' skills.

Another goal is ridding students of their misconceptions of manufacturing jobs.

"People still think about them being dirty ... the kind of jobs you want to steer your children away from," he said. "The reality is that they're well-paying jobs, in good working environments."

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168