More state manufacturers are finding qualified workers scarce.
Enterprise Minnesota's annual State of Manufacturing survey was up against stiff news competition at the Capitol last week. It went public the same day that the Special Redistricting Panel issued new legislative and congressional maps. Legislators who missed the public-private partnership's announcement would be well-advised to circle back to it. The public policy concerns of 400 Minnesota manufacturing executives ought not go unnoticed.
Those employers provide the high-wage, high-tech, talent-attracting jobs that are key to maintaining Minnesota's prosperity. Manufacturing employment took a 50,000-job nosedive between 2007 and 2009 and has been slowly creeping back up since then. Keeping and adding to those gains is vital to sustaining the state's recovery from recession.
Notable in Enterprise Minnesota's fourth annual survey is the jump in worry about the ability to attract and retain qualified workers. Nearly a third of the manufacturers surveyed rated a shortage of qualified workers as a major concern, double the share who expressed that worry last year.
Perennial gripes about expensive health care, taxes and regulations still rank higher in the survey than does a worker shortage. But concern about workforce availability is the fastest-growing challenge manufacturers face, and one that won't be easy to overcome. An aging workforce combines with the comparatively lower academic attainment of the under-25-year-old population to threaten Minnesota's standing as an educated-workforce leader among the states.
Preserving Minnesota's best economic edge will require bucking the demographic tide. That's not impossible. But it will require more concerted and bipartisan effort than the state has seen to date.
More vigorous recruitment of young talent would help, said Enterprise Minnesota president and CEO Bob Kill. In several communities around the state, employers and technical colleges are working together with high school students to sell the idea that manufacturing can be a lucrative and desirable career.
But the slowing growth of the young adult population suggests that a skills boost will be needed among older workers, too. They'll need access to state financial aid grants that now flow primarily to 18- to 22-year-olds, and to academic programs that measure and certify their existing competencies as well as allow them to quickly gain new skills.
A report last month by the 12-state Midwestern Higher Education compact recommended that Minnesota should aim to increase its higher-education degree output by 2.5 percent per year through 2025 to prevent "an anticipated shortage of human capital." Both an increase in higher-education enrollment and in the share of students who complete degrees are called for, the report said. That report, too, deserves lawmakers' attention.