Most job openings will require skilled labor

Published 9:31 am Friday, November 28, 2008

Regularly, I review articles from Minnesota FutureWork, an environmental scanning program designed to identify new and emerging occupations, the skills required for such occupations, and the education and training needed to develop such skills.

By the way, environmental scanning systematically monitors changes in the environment. These changes can be political, economical, technological, or social. The goal is to provide perspective and context for better life planning and decision making.

Minnesota FutureWork is a collection of articles highlighting current trends and news that impact industry, the economy and careers. These articles originate from various media journals throughout the country.

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A recent article, “Employment and America’s Future,” discussed an economic trend related to a less skilled or unskilled workforce. The demand for this type of worker has consistently diminished over past decades. Gone are the days when large numbers of untrained employees could secure jobs, earn viable wages and support their families. In the current precarious economic environment, this type of worker is at even greater risk as incomes worsen and employment prospects disappear.

The article’s information highlights the relevance of workforce development in such challenging times as provided by community colleges like Riverland.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 45 percent of all job openings in the economy through 2014 will be in skilled occupations like nursing, electricians and automotive technicians. While these jobs do not always mandate a baccalaureate degree, they do require postsecondary training, including industry certificates and/or technical specifications.

According to information from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Web site, there are a number of high-skill, high-wage and high-demand career areas in southeastern Minnesota. Riverland provides training for these “careers in demand” in the areas of accounting, business, business and office, computer technology, construction trades, health, management, manufacturing, service transportation. We help people upgrade skills in order to secure better jobs and earn higher wages.

Employers in our region also understand the value of investing in employees at the lower end of the economic ladder. The Minnesota Job Skills Partnership Board, a program of the Minnesota Department of Employee and Economic Development, funded two Special Incumbent Worker Training Programs to be implemented by Riverland and the employer. One was for Owatonna-based Viracon to develop the company’s minority workforce in lower-labor grades.

The other program, at McNeilus Truck and Manufacturing in Dodge Center, seeks to retrain its workforce to meet changing industry needs. Riverland offers online, classroom, and virtual training in courses such as refuse diagnostics, virtual painting, and refurbishing disassembly at McNeilus’ onsite training facility.

Programs like these represent the future of workforce development in Minnesota and will ensure that local employers remain competitive in a global economy. In both examples, the employer’s future success depends on upgrading workers’ skills and leveraging resources.

The challenge of not having enough skills is a reality for many workers, but there is hope: Riverland and other community colleges provide opportunities to get on a career pathway that will help develop high skills for high-demand, high-wage jobs.

Terrence Leas is the president of Riverland Community College.