Workforce and educational issues were front and center Monday when University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler spoke with members of the MetroNorth Chamber of Commerce.
Kaler spoke at the “Building a Better Workforce” event April 22 at Aveda in Blaine.
Kaler became president of the University of Minnesota July 1, 2011. An alumni of the university, Kaler said he “never, in my wildest dreams” thought he would be its president.
But he is, and it’s a job Kaler takes very seriously.
“The university is serious business,” he said.
“The future is literally in our hands.”
Kaler praised the post-secondary education system in the state, listing one of Minnesota’s strengths as the diversity of educational opportunities.
In addressing how to build a better workforce, Kaler said the University of Minnesota is working to address the skills gap, which often focuses on manufacturing.
But regardless of the industry, Kaler said, “Adaptation and nimbleness are key qualities that our graduates must have.”
These skills will prepare students for jobs now and in the future, he said.
“We must prepare students for whatever comes down the road to them,” Kaler said.
To that end, he said, “Our outcomes, what our students graduate with the ability to do, align with what businesses need.”
But Kaler stressed that closing the achievement gap is equally as important as closing the skills gap.
It is important to work to get all students graduating from high school and looking at post-secondary educational opportunities, Kaler said.
“The jobs of the future are going to need post-secondary education,” he said.
According to Kaler, there is a 45 percent gap in the graduation rate between white students and students of color.
“It’s unacceptable to have gaps in achievement between our students,” Kaler said. “It’s a battle we cannot afford to lose.”
One key, according to Kaler, is getting students to understand that post-secondary education is needed and even expected once they graduate from high school.
“We have to get a cultural expectation that this is what you have to do,” Kaler said.
Teachers, as early as middle school, need to tell students that they need to continue their education in order to be successful into adulthood, he said.
The post-secondary institutions, in turn, need to do what they can to control tuition costs and the debt burden on students, Kaler said.
“We need to get college back as an expectation,” he said.
Kelly Johnson is at [email protected]