Riverland receives $1.97 million to fund ‘Earn and Learn’ project

Published 8:52 pm Friday, March 24, 2023

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Riverland Community College was awarded $1.975 million through the 2023 congressionally directed spending federal budget allocation to fund a workforce initiative called Learn and Earn. The project funding was secured by Minnesota senators, Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith.

Riverland’s Learn and Earn Initiative is a workforce development initiative to strengthen the pipeline of skilled technicians in the manufacturing and transportation sectors by creating programs and curriculum that will provide students with the opportunity to obtain educational credentials or certifications while also contributing to the workforce by working in high demand fields that are experiencing unprecedented labor shortages.

Approximately $1.7 million of the project costs will be allocated to upgrading equipment to meet industry standards for training students in manufacturing and transportation programs on the Albert Lea and Owatonna campuses, which will benefit the entire southern Minnesota region that Riverland serves.

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Riverland will launch a new Automation Robotics Engineering Technology certificate starting in the fall of 2023. A diploma and Associate of Applied Science degree will launch in the future. Funding will purchase equipment such as industrial robots, industrial control systems, various programmable logistical controllers (PLCs), fluid power, electric motor control, optical sensors and other much needed equipment upgrades for Riverland’s Advanced Manufacturing programs.

Riverland is strategically increasing transportation training opportunities due to market demand. Purchasing an additional semi-truck and passenger bus will increase Riverland’s capacity for transportation training.

Approximately $275,000 of the award will be allocated to engage businesses to develop a “Learn and Earn” model for learners to enroll in manufacturing and transportation programs while working part-time for partner businesses to solve the immediate and future workforce demands.

Riverland will also recruit and develop a diverse pool of faculty to educate and retain diverse students who make up a growing percentage of the labor pool. Collaborate with industry partners to identify skilled technicians who could be trained as part-time adjunct instructors in credit and non-credit courses in the manufacturing and transportation sector.

Development and delivery of non-credit training and certifications in high-demand areas like commercial truck driving (Class A and B), logistics, distribution and welding to assist business and industry partners in upskilling current employees in shorter timeframes.

“Due to the great support of Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, Riverland Community College is grateful for the congressionally directed spending allocation to launch a $1.97 million Learn and Earn Initiative that engages industry partners with students in Riverland’s manufacturing and transportation programs at our three campuses in Austin, Albert Lea and Owatonna,” said Riverland President Dr. Adenuga Atewologun. “The allocation will enable an investment into high-tech instructional equipment and create ‘learn and earn’ opportunities for students with the cooperation of employers in high-demand fields, such as manufacturing and transportation. For employers who are currently experiencing unprecedented workforce challenges and shortages, the Learn and Earn Initiative is a strategic investment in Riverland Community College to meet workforce development needs in the region we serve.”

The college is working on the project plan for the first several months of 2023 as Riverland learns more about the timeline for receiving funds and federal award requirements.

Funds may be spent over the next three years.

Why is funding needed?

Manufacturing is the second largest industry in the southeast Minnesota economic development Region 10. DEED labor market research shows a projected 7% increased need in southeast Minnesota for electro-mechanical technicians between 2020 and 2030 and reports 243 current job vacancies. Moreover, in the southeast Minnesota planning area, these occupations pay on average $8.23 more per hour than the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) basic needs cost of living estimates.

“At Design Ready Controls, our main focus is people” said John Hacker, chief financial officer of Design Ready Controls. “This funding helps support our employees to have continual growth and career development within the company. We’ve partnered and seen the success of “Learn and Earn” programs and look forward to launching this with Riverland.”

In transportation, Riverland has a unique opportunity to provide a solution to the critical workforce shortage of commercial truck drivers and logistics specialists in the state.

According to the 2021 DEED Job Vacancy Survey, there are currently over 14,250 job openings in transportation and material moving occupations in Minnesota, including 2,854 openings for heavy and tractor-trailer drivers. That number is expected to grow by 6.6% in new jobs, and there are anticipated to be 16,449 openings due to replacement needs as people leave the labor force for retirements or other reasons. Truck driving is also a high-wage job. DEED occupations in demand data indicates that heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers have a median wage of $51,248 per year or $24.64/hour which is $6.55 higher per hour than Minnesota’s average median wage of $18.09/hour.

In the transportation sector, new federal Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) regulations require entry-level drivers of commercial vehicles to receive training from a registered provider. Riverland is the only approved provider of CDL education in southern Minnesota. In response, Riverland will increase faculty to allow for more enrollment. Businesses like school bus, waste management, hazmat and snow removal also need our help to educate safe, licensed drivers. These partners asked Riverland to create more certificate programs to fulfill their needs. To do this, Riverland needs additional equipment to update and support these education and training opportunities.

“We are excited to be an industry partner with Riverland,” said Ben Tweeten, Albert Lea Bus Company. “Our search for new talent is continual and we see great quality in the students that we have hired out of Riverland’s Truck Driving Program.”
Our commitment to this program as an industry partner demonstrates the value, we see in the comprehensive training offered by Jonathan and his trainers.

Riverland Community College, a member of the Minnesota State system, is a community college that strives to transform lives through excellence in service, education, and career training. Approximately 4,500 students are served annually through a wide range of credit-based educational opportunities. Of those 55 percent are First Generation students and 26 percent are students of color. With campuses located in Albert Lea, Austin and Owatonna, Minnesota, Riverland may be found on the Internet at www.riverland.edu.

Minnesota State includes 26 community and technical colleges and seven state universities serving approximately 300,000 students. It is the fourth-largest system of two-year colleges and four-year universities in the United States.