Minnesota’s baby boomers like me are retiring at a fast pace, leaving thousands of job opportunities behind them. One estimate suggests that an average of 21,000 Minnesota job openings per month could be available between now and the year 2022.

So, what’s the problem?

The problem is that the state is not positioned to fill many of the new jobs for skilled technical positions, especially including manufacturing, construction, medical devices, health care, agriculture and energy.

At this time, about half of Minnesota high school graduates head off seeking a four-year college degree that may or may not be relevant — often not — to employers in need of workers to fill many of those anticipated 280,000 jobs.

If current trends continue, filling those jobs will not be possible without immediate, significant improvements in planning, job training and productivity.

BLS lists opportunities

The Bureau of Labor Statistics this year released a listing of average annual salaries of “no-college-required” jobs that are rapidly growing in number.

From most opportunities to the least, here are the top 10: nuclear medical tech ($75,000); paralegal ($50,000); hearing aid tech ($50,000); optician tech ($36,000); medical equipment repair ($50,000); MRI tech ($69,000); computer support tech ($50,000); web developer ($66,000); medical records tech ($40,000), and physical therapy tech ($25,000).

One strategic goal being advanced by some in Minnesota is to ensure a vocational path to the middle class for everyone, especially including those one-in-five youngsters who are potential workers left behind at a very early age. Such a program must start early, involve parents and offer a special emphasis on reading and writing by third grade.

Wake Forest University economist Amanda Griffith has undertaken research on successful options to the four-year degree which, she says, includes two-year degrees, on-the-job work-based learning, apprenticeships and occupational certificates. Over the past decade, many of such young trained workers are now well on the path to higher median lifetime earnings than four-year degree holders.

Workforce issues are key

Retiring Gov. Mark Dayton and his predecessors have addressed many of the multifaceted needs required to prepare Minnesota’s workforce. With a relatively high level of education, low unemployment, an above-average median income of $58,000 and the nation’s third-highest workforce participation at 70 percent, Minnesota has done many things right.

At least three DFLers and four Republican hopefuls are gearing up to be elected Minnesota’s next governor in less than seven months. Though it is not a high-profile political issue, it would be a wise for the candidates to explore and share their own preferred strategies on how to best prepare a successful workforce in Minnesota.

Four respected business organizations — the Minnesota Business Partnership, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Greater MSP and the Itasca Project — are helping to devise an effective long-term framework to enhance Minnesota’s economic growth. A major part of such an undertaking is creation of a qualified workforce. A specific set of proposals from the group is expected this year.

States are innovating

The 50 states are often the laboratories for solutions to challenges such as creating a qualified, skilled, technical workforce of the future.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has focused on developing a skilled talent pipeline for hard-to-fill positions in advanced manufacturing and information technology. Last year, CareerWise Colorado began a no-college-required program with about 250 students; Hickenlooper’s goal is to grow the approach to 20,000 participants, or 10 percent of the state’s high school juniors and seniors.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s Workforce Development Agency emphasizes four objectives: partnership, accountability, training and “hope.”

Kentucky employers are in their 10th year under an initiative­ — launched by concerned employers and then-Gov. Mike Easley — resolving that the state could “grow their own talent.” A new two-year advanced manufacturing technician program has been a top priority.

In Indiana, Ivy Tech Community College’s focus on workforce development has reached 45 campuses throughout the state in creating an associate of applied science degree aimed at future workers in 15 different trades; organized labor has been closely involved.

Pathways to Prosperity (PTP), a Boston-based organization, has a network of 14 states and over 60 regions working on job-related demonstration projects. In Minnesota, PTP is helping to shape college and career strategies in five larger school districts — Minneapolis, St. Paul, Bloomington, White Bear Lake and Burnsville — to better align grade 9-14 academic curricula with employers’ real needs.

Minnesota must plan for a future workforce that will meet the robust needs of our thousands of job providers. My friend, futurist Jack Uldrich, has often said that leaders must anticipate what others want and need well before folks are asking for it.

 

Chuck Slocum is president of the Williston Group, a management consulting firm. He is a former executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership. Contact him at chuck@willistongroup.com