Youth Skills Training Builds Future Manufacturing Workforce

28 Mar 2019

Growth in U.S. manufacturing has been great for the economy. But an aging workforce has been causing companies concern. In a recent survey of manufacturers, more than 70 percent reported being worried about their ability to attract and retain skilled workers.

States like Minnesota are working to address this shortage of skilled employees before it becomes a full-blown crisis. The state had bipartisan support for the Youth Skills Training Program to create and provide employment training for students age 16 and older in high-growth, high-demand occupations.

Independent School District 728 has been working with area businesses to prioritize workforce development in Elk River, Otsego, Rogers and Zimmerman. It was one of five districts to receive a Youth Skills Training grant through the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry to develop and implement paid on-the-job experiences for students.

Since the Youth Skills Training Program can be tailored to the needs of a specific region, the grant will be used to enhance manufacturing sector apprenticeship and internship opportunities in the area.

youth program“Skilled workers in manufacturing is the greatest need in the community,” explains Elk River Area School District Career Technical Education Coordinator Amy Lord, who notes that building trades workers are also needed in the area. “A future goal will be to move construction in the same direction.”

Lord says this is the second year Elk River Area Schools has conducted Youth Skills Training. But this is the first year it was awarded a grant to assist with its efforts. The two-year grant starts July 1, 2019.

Youth Skills Training happens through an ongoing partnership between ISD 728 and area employers. The intent is to allow students to explore manufacturing careers that offer good wages with work-based learning experiences to prepare students for careers and a variety of post-secondary training options.

The funding has two components. It will be used to aid students in career exploration and expand experiential learning experiences. A work-based learning coordinator is responsible for building partnerships with businesses as well as instructing and overseeing students.

Career exploration is an important piece of the grant. Lord points out that it’s important to proactively address misconceptions students may have about manufacturing jobs, particularly before they’re juniors and seniors.

“Some of this involves simple exposure,” says Lord. “Tours for students and parents can dispel the old stereotypes that manufacturing means working in a dark, dingy space.”

The high schools are already working with a variety of employers. Internships are based on employer needs and student interests. Each student works with the work-based learning coordinator to develop an individual training plan.

Students are matched with company mentors who assist with the educational experience. “One of the biggest things with the partnership is making sure students have a good strong learning experience in a safe environment,” says Lord.

Students are paid for their part-time work and can also earn elective credits. The work experience itself is also invaluable, as it bolsters resumes and provides job references for the future.

Students have been working at Alliance Machine and Crystal Distribution, Inc. (CDI) through the program. Companies such as Tescom, Metal Craft, M&M Precision Machining and Eastey Enterprise also offer learning opportunities.

Lord says students have “a lot of excitement about being able to expand their skills” with these internships. She gives the example of a student that was working in assembly at CDI who was interested in welding. After taking a class and with the Youth Skills Training Agreement, he was able to do some welding on the job, which greatly expanded his work-based learning experience.

A number of manufacturers offer attractive education benefits such as tuition reimbursement. A student who works in the quality control department at Alliance Machine was able to take advantage of Postsecondary Enrollment Options to earn college credits towards a machining degree while attending high school.

Lord says employers are starting to understand the potential return on the investment of training local youth. And students are starting to realize they don’t need to move away or go into debt to access training and education that can lead to a great career. It’s a mutually beneficial situation that will have ripple effects on the community.

“If we start with young people, work together and learn from each other, we can strengthen local businesses and the area’s economy,” says Lord.