Minnesota colleges to seek more funding for trade training

Published 8:21 pm Tuesday, November 27, 2018

ST. PAUL — Officials are seeking more state funding to make Minnesota’s public colleges and universities more accessible and affordable to help meet a surge in demand for skilled tradespeople.

Devinder Malhotra, the chancellor of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, told Minnesota Public Radio that while the system produces about 38,000 graduates per year, administrators feel the need to scale up operations.

“At one end, we have to make education very affordable. At the other end, we have to make education exceptional, state of the art, so that they actually are ready for the workplace,” Malhotra said. “We have to continue to talk and build on these partnerships so that we understand what are the emerging needs.”

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Malhotra said the state’s 30 two-year colleges will help address the state’s tight skilled labor market. He plans to pitch his funding request to state lawmakers this spring.

Minnesota had a 2.8 percent unemployment rate last month, according to the state Department of Employment and Economic Development. The low rate is leaving Minnesota firms struggling to hire qualified mechanics, technicians and other tradespeople.

Some firms are turning to internship programs to find employees.

Construction company Ziegler CAT collaborated with Dakota County Technical College to create an internship program for the school’s heavy construction equipment students, who often become full-time employees after graduation.

“I’ve been calling it a little bit of a lifeline,” said Jim Bjorkland, the company’s operations manager.

Bjorkland said the company hired 14 students through the program last year.

Ziegler directed employee Kyle Vickerman to the program after he expressed interest in advancing his skills. The company also offered to reimburse the education costs and change Vickerman’s schedule to still allow him to work full time.

“Partnering with these programs to help develop those potential employees has been a huge benefit to us,” Bjorkland said.