In 2016, Sandee Joppa became the executive director of RealTime Talent, a public-private collaborative formed out of the work of the business-advisory group Itasca Project. It aims to improve alignment among students, workers, training organizations, schools and employers through research and tools. Joppa spent 25-plus years in human resources at Donaldson Co., General Mills and her own firm. Joppa, who earned an undergraduate degree in English from Luther College and a master’s degree in industrial relations from the University of Minnesota, is president of the Twin Cities Human Resources Executive Council. She said the organization is still in the early stages, but getting footing and demonstrating progress.

Q: What is the goal and objective of RealTime Talent, and what is the issue you are trying to address?

A: The goal is to use data to build the world’s best workforce in Minnesota. We are experiencing a shortage of workers that will grow to about 278,000 by 2022 unless we make significant changes. Minnesota needs a better way to make sure the students we graduate have the skills they need … and that employers know where to find them more easily, and vice versa. We were formed in 2015 out of work started by Itasca. We provide custom research, access to labor market data and innovative tools to address labor force needs and to support our higher education and workforce centers. Ultimately, we are all about boosting the economic prosperity of our state and Minnesotans through collective action and market-oriented decisions.


Q: How do you embrace or transcend the much-discussed “skills gap?”

A: We need more people in the labor market to maintain our current rate of economic growth and production. The first priorities are pathways into youth employment [ages 16-24], attracting new talent to Minnesota from other states and abroad, eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in employment and focusing on getting dislocated workers and the long-term unemployed back to work. There are a lot of 24- to 54-year-old men [on the bench].


Q: What is the strategy?

A: To help educators, career services, workforce centers and employers use information and tools that until now have not been available to them. They need to know where the jobs are, where the job seekers are, what skills and careers are in demand and how the best matches can be made. There is no good substitute for the tools and research we provide.


Q: Who are your stakeholders?

A: I think that what makes RealTime Talent a truly unique organization is the cross-industry, collective approach that we take to serve the common good of employees and employers. We have a vast network of partners and stakeholders across Minnesota who provide services to employers, educators, students, job seekers and economic development planners to help them work better, together. The strength and broad reach of our board ensures that we are both employer-led through industry associations … and provider-led through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, and all sectors of higher education.


Q: What are the results so far?

A: The results of this work are far-reaching, from increased efficiency in the work of over 900 professionals statewide that help job seekers and students find career paths and jobs, to the creation of new programs at colleges and universities based on employer demand.


Q: For example?

A: Jason Bruns, director of the Minnesota Center for Engineering and Manufacturing Excellence at Minnesota State University Mankato regularly uses data made available by RealTime Talent. He explored demand for lean manufacturing tools by employers. And based on the data he has incorporated the utilization of ‘lean tools education’ into university engineering, the [state] corrections department and high school programs. Since engineers are commonly recognized as short on soft skills, Jason also uses data to identify the skills that hiring managers and HR people look for in resumes, and uses this information to talk with mechanical engineering students about resumes and interviews. The students better communicate.

Nonprofit housing-and-training agency Project for Pride in Living’s employment services works with the unemployed and underemployed, refugees and immigrant job seekers to find meaningful, living-wage work. Their team uses data sources to help job seekers find the right opportunities for them, identify which employers are hiring, and the salary ranges for skills in order to better negotiate salaries. We are seeing individual success. We have a lot of leaders and others engaged. It’s a large ship with a lot of paddles.


Q: Anything else?

A: Our newest innovation … the RealTime Talent exchange is a unique, web-based technology that matches candidates to employers based on job-specific skills and hiring needs, and interests and workplace preferences. It cuts the time and cost of recruiting and searching, and reduces the biases that sometime creep into those processes. Several organizations host their own portals of the exchange branded for their regions.