Working together to close the job skills gap

U.S. Sen. Al Franken recently visited Anoka-Hennepin School District 11’s Secondary Technical Education Program (STEP) to draw attention to Minnesota’s “skills gap.”

Instructor Don Borowick (left) works with students Joseph Imhoede and Mike Layland during a sheet metal class at Anoka Technical College.
Instructor Don Borowick (left) works with students Joseph Imhoede and Mike Layland during a sheet metal class at Anoka Technical College.

While business, especially manufacturers, are ready and willing to hire, they are unable to find employees that have the job skills they require.

To address this issue head on, the Anoka-Hennepin School District’s Adult Basic Education (ABE) program, Anoka Technical College (ATC), Anoka County’s Workforce Center and local employers have been working together to train people to work in precision sheet metal.

The program, which began in September 2011, was made possible with a grant from the Minnesota State Energy Partnership to the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation. The program runs through December.

Through the 10-week program, participants learn shop math from ABE, machining at ATC and resume and job-search skills from Anoka County.

With a focus on helping employers to be efficient and competitive, participants also receive 48 hours of GreenPOWER training.

Established by the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation, this is a training program that provides current and future manufacturing employees the skills they need to save their company time and money by “greening” their business.

With 30 sheet metal employers within 30 minutes of ATC, local employers are very interested in the program.

Employers have helped design the program, donated materials for classes and attended the students’ graduation ceremonies, doing interviews on the spot.

Betty Parton, a case manager with the Anoka County Job Training Center, said one participant had a job 21 hours after graduation.

One former graduate of the program has been promoted to a supervisor position and has asked Parton to send new graduates his way, she said.

According to Emily Watts, an ABE instructor, the program has been successful because they select careers and training options that the market demands.

“We don’t want to train people for positions that don’t exist,” Watts said.

“Our goal is that people are able to find successful employment and launch their lives. People want to be confident and contributing members of our community. We give them a leg up to do that.”

Program participants typically step into jobs with starting wages from $10 to $16 an hour.

Patron said not only is this good for a 10-week program, there is potential to grow. After a three-year apprenticeship, employees can gain skills for jobs that pay around $30,000 a year.

Because this is a grant, the training is offered to participants at no cost.

If participants choose to take an Occupational, Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and/or SME green manufacturing certificate exam, test fees are covered by the grant. Each graduate also receives a set of tools.

With each class having 12 participants, about 60 people have gone through the program so far.

Patron said the placement rate to date is about 76 percent and she thinks there will be a 100 percent placement rate in the current class.

For more information about the precision sheet metal training program, contact Patron at 763-783-4863.

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