The help-wanted sign is out in Hennepin County.

Nearly half — 43 percent — of the county's 7,461 full-time employees are eligible to retire by 2025, according to County Administrator David Hough.

"You're looking at half the workforce being new in 10 years," he said.

That sounds like good news for job seekers, but the trend, mirrored across the state and nation, creates a challenge for the county, which must quickly find, train and hire new people.

It's not just the gray tsunami of baby-boomer retirements. There's also a strong desire to increase workforce racial diversity to reflect the county's population — a goal complicated by the achievement gap for minority students, who often don't meet academic standards at the rate of their white peers.

Three years ago, Hough and other administrators inventoried the county's 385 job classifications to determine which could have less stringent qualifications. The question was "where can we remove barriers that have not allowed people into the workforce?" said human resources director Michael Rossman.

They found 15 classifications for which new hires wouldn't necessarily need four-year college degrees, Hough said. Now they've developed new programs, called Pathways, to funnel promising prospects into the workforce.

Working with Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC), as well as the state Department of Employment and Economic Development, the county created a nine-month program to train human services representatives.

These workers are the first contact for county residents seeking assistance. Many of those who have come through the program have been on assistance themselves.

After nine months at MCTC, the recruits have earned nine college credits and the skills to land a county job. Moving someone off government assistance into full-time employment with a living wage and benefits in under a year benefits all parties.

Another Pathway program prepares people for jobs more quickly through training at Project for Pride in Living (PPL), a nonprofit that helps lower-income residents.

PPL runs a training program for "office specialist III" positions that pay almost $18 an hour with benefits, including college tuition aid. The training, which takes just a couple of months, includes shadowing a county worker and a brief unpaid internship before the person can apply for open jobs.

'Money in the bank'

Recent success stories include Nancy Asan, who now works for the County Board, and Carmen Garcia, employed in the county's human resources department.

Asan, 56, emigrated from Kyrgyzstan to Canada a few years ago. In her native country, she had a master's degree in public administration and worked for a U.N. official.

When one of her daughters had a baby, Asan moved to the Twin Cities to provide child care so her daughter could return to work as a financial analyst. As little Sophia approached her second birthday, Asan decided it was time to find work. She went to PPL.

Three months later, she feels astounded at her luck in having landed a job on the 24th floor of the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis. "Here you have some stability," she said, beaming as she described benefits that include health insurance and bus-fare discounts. In addition to speaking English and Kyrgyz, Asan is a certified Russian translator.

As she's settling into work, she's been thrilled by how she is regarded and that Hough greets her by name on his trips to the board offices. "How they treat people here, it's so respectful," she said.

Garcia, 40, attended a PPL orientation session as part of her previous job as a corporate trainer. The plan was to tell trainees about the program, but she was so taken by it that she went into it herself.

Two years ago, Garcia moved from her native Los Angeles to Minneapolis with her husband and their three children so he could join his family's business. For a couple of years, she worked remotely at her former job.

She didn't know about the tuition aid and had enrolled in classes toward a business degree at MCTC before she was hired by the county.

Like Asan, Garcia sounded thrilled with her new employer's commitment to "training, diversity and inclusion."

In addition to English, Garcia speaks fluent Spanish. Even as she settles into her new job, she's excited by opportunities in other areas and has identified "several departments that do things I'm interested in."

Rossman and Hough said that's what the county wants: "utility players" who can work across agencies.

If the two women follow the pattern of the average county worker, they will be around for a while. The average age of a county employee is 49. The average longevity of their employment is 20 years.

As examples, Hough and Rossman hold up themselves. Hough started as a law clerk 33 years ago. In his 24 years at Hennepin County, Rossman has worked in five departments. His first job title — office specialist III, the same as Asan and Garcia.

To Asan, who got her first paycheck Nov. 6, the job is reason to celebrate. "My daughter said, 'We have to get some red wine,' " she said.

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747 Twitter: @rochelleolson