Salina Julin was an unfocused millennial, drifting from job to job without a plan a few years ago.
Today, Julin, 27, is a Graco warehouse supervisor, who found what she now considers a career position thanks to the New Brighton office of Volt Workforce Solutions.
Volt and Graco are among dozens of partners linked together on Trades Hub, a not-for-profit brainchild of BridgeWorks. It’s an electronic platform that links young people, particularly women and minorities, to industrial and manufacturing employers, as well as area two-year colleges, nonprofit training organizations and scholarships.
Before the COVID-19 health crisis and instant recession, employers of almost all stripes were hungry for workers. The employment gains made by women and minorities since 2010 — including in technology, health care, business services and construction trades — were double or more the growth in the overall Twin Cities job market during the economic recovery.
Employment of people of color in the seven-county area rose 50% to 430,520 between 2010 and 2018, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. Total employment grew only 17% over those years to 1.98 million people.
Baby boomers, the generation with the highest portion of white workers, must be replaced as they retire. And Trades Hub was set up to help by the diverse management team at BridgeWorks, a consulting firm with a 22-year record in the Twin Cities.
Chuck Webster, 57, a former securities analyst and owner of BridgeWorks, spent a couple of years developing Trades-Hub.com as a video-laden, easy-to-navigate intersection for employers, scholarship providers, schools, career-training and workforce-development organizations and others.
The idea is to connect with young people, many of whom are drifting after high school, who might pursue opportunities doing the important work of manufacturing, building and fixing things in careers that amount to $50,000-plus careers within a few years.
For example, warehouse work: When I was working in the Minneapolis Warehouse District as a teenager 50 years ago, it was about picking orders, loading and unloading trucks in narrow alleys, sweating and dodging drunks on Washington Avenue.
Trades Hub videos, using real workers, explain how warehouse workers electronically track, receive and ship products, using inventory-control systems that seem more akin to video games than the pencil, paper and phone system my boss used.
‘‘Chuck is onto something,” said Susan Basil King, executive director of Wallin Education Partners, which supports low-income high school graduates through scholarships to two- and four-year schools.
King said Wallin has a new program called Opportunity Pathways to support students going to community college. “We led a collaboration of 12 college and high school partners, including AchieveMpls, Genesys Works, College Possible and St. Paul Public Schools,” she said. “That is where the connection with Trades Hub is a fit for us.’’
Webster launched the growing Trades Hub website in 2019. It includes job postings, articles, scholarship information from foundations, companies and schools, and a lot of accessible print and video career information.
“We’re doing everything possible to reduce pipeline friction between [young people] and future employers,” said Webster, whose family also funds a scholarship for young women. “We’ve got real stories in our day-in-the-life videos, like Salina’s at Graco, or Rene the welder who found her passion through Dunwoody College of Technology. Or Valentino, who is now an HVAC star at Bonfe [plumbing and heating company]. He grew up on the south side of Chicago and once was bouncing from house to house. He could be an inspiration to many young people to pursue a similar path.’’
Former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who runs the Minneapolis Foundation, which is active in this arena, said of Webster and Trades Hub: “I’m a big fan. Chuck intentionally made this a private-sector initiative. We see his effort as extremely effective and important.’’