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Efforts to Encourage Young People into Trades Must Continue

No matter the outcomes of tomorrow’s elections, Minnesota needs its leaders to buckle down on solving the workforce shortfall threatening our state’s prosperity and our labor force. With Baby Boomers retiring, the state’s future skilled workforce requires young people with skills (and interest) in industries that make up Minnesota’s economic backbone including manufacturing, construction, healthcare, agriculture, and energy.

But there’s a perfect storm in our state’s talent development pipeline. Around 50 percent of Minnesota high school graduates start down a four-year college route, yet only 22 percent of jobs in the state require a baccalaureate degree or more, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

How do we encourage young people—and their parents—to consider alternative pathways outside of a four-year degree? How do we properly train those who are keen to use their talents in these sectors?

A partnership between Anoka Technical College, the Secondary Technical Education Program (STEP) high school and other local high schools provides students with opportunities to gain employable skills before graduation.

“We have been able to acquire additional funding and develop advisory boards to build and maintain a pipeline for younger students, who are beginning to take manufacturing courses in ninth and 10th grade,” said Jessica Lipa, director of the STEP school. “By 12th grade these students are ready for internships and apprenticeships. We are now seeing eight-graders touring our college campuses and elementary students as young as fifth grade getting exposed to manufacturing-related software and are beginning to develop an interest in technical careers.”

Rising interest in skilled technical positions shows efforts to counter the image of manufacturing, construction and similar fields as dirty and dangerous work environments are succeeding. By approaching career and technical education as a way to build a financially rewarding career, we see the myth that these jobs are second-best collapse.

The Center’s “Great Jobs Without a Four-Year Degree” project has used videos on social media platforms to reach young people and dispel stigmas with evidence. These jobs are not low-intellect jobs for people who aren’t very bright and can’t find work elsewhere. People choose this work often because of the creative and cognitive demands. These jobs are lucrative positions that can establish financial independence at a young age, and above all, help people avoid crippling student debt. These jobs do not require workers to perform a single task at a single station for 30+ years on end without variation. Each job can be seen as the first step on a career pathway. These jobs often provide a deep sense of meaning. People like being part of something bigger than themselves, and in these fields, they often find that depth and significance.

Efforts by numerous stakeholders are underway to address these challenges, and it is important Minnesota’s future plans include further state-wide workforce initiatives to attract and retain the skilled talent our state demands.

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