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Minnesota Needs to Address Labor Shortage in Education Curricula

Why do most schools around the country have a three-month break every summer? The nine-month school year was adopted over a century ago, so children could work on the farms during prime harvesting months. This is an example of the public education system adapting to the economy. The top priority for any public education system should be preparing the students to be productive members of society, including preparing them to join the labor force.

Currently, one of the top issues with the Minnesota economy is a labor shortage. Not just any labor, but high skilled labor in technical fields that require trade degrees and apprenticeships rather than four-year degrees. The shortage today will only grow over the next few years as a growing share of the baby boomer generation begins retiring.

It is time for Minnesota Public Schools to adapt to the economy and increase outreach and opportunities for such programs. Efforts by schools to increase opportunities for students have been well documented, but not widespread enough to get the change required.

Most schools have added courses to address these needs, but many schools are not doing enough to actually promote these programs or attack the stigma they come with. Many students who are perfectly suited for an apprenticeship may never seriously consider it if he or she only hears from people promoting the four-year path.

This is a problem that is impacting both the metro area and Greater Minnesota. In the metro area, Minnesota’s well-trained labor force has attracted large businesses to conduct operations here, but many top firms are considering relocating due to labor market shortages.

Southeast Minnesota has 9,000 vacant jobs according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. Many of which are in fields like “carpentry, construction, plumbing, electricity, and more.” These jobs are especially important because when an economy’s infrastructure is outdated, all business suffers.

Some companies are actively working to ensure they can get the talent they need. 3M invested $1.5 million in the St. Paul School District to stimulate science and engineering programs, as well as summer programs and giving kids access to mentors. 3M is hoping such efforts will ensure graduating students keep them in mind when considering career paths.

School officials shouldn’t view making such changes as a burden. Nearly everyone will benefit from an improvement in the labor force matching efficiency. Businesses will be able to hire the workers they need to maintain operations. Young people will benefit from the increased opportunities, and those who take these paths will get access to high paying jobs without high debt. Young students who pursue four-year degrees will benefit from less competition in their fields upon graduation. The improved economy means more tax dollars for state and local governments. Superintendents and principals that successfully implement these programs will be highly valued and could be offered raises or positions at other schools.

A society must constantly adapt to changing conditions. The private sector does this through profit and loss motives, but when the government controls parts of the economy, they tend to be slower. Even so, efforts must be made to speed up the process of addressing the labor market shortage by increasing access and outreach to apprenticeships, trade professions, and other skilled labor jobs outside of the traditional college path.

Andrew Scattergood is a summer intern with the Center, a senior finance major at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, and a graduate of Wayzata High School.

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