Manufacturers from about 10 companies throughout Minnesota came to the Anoka Technical College Jan. 18 to hear some tips about how to improve their businesses.
Mary Connor, a business growth specialist with Enterprise Minnesota, gave a more than one-hour presentation but encouraged business leaders to share their personal stories and to grade their own businesses.
Connor stressed the importance of being self-aware of what is happening outside of their business whether it be new technology, trends, regulations, and competitor initiatives.
“I know manufacturers are good at what is happening inside their four walls, but sometimes are not good at paying attention to what is happening outside their four walls,” she said.
When asked to grade their own companies, many identified the workforce talent pool as a weakness.
One manufacturer from Anoka shared how some countries have students graduating from high school with the equivalent knowledge of a two-year technical degree.
Connor said the first step for companies is to “grow their own” through training. The longer-range goal is to get more technology education programs back into the K-12 schools.
“I think what is happening is K through 12 is passing on a lot of folks who are not technical ready, so remedial (education) is happening at the tech schools now and they’re paying a lot of tuition that they wouldn’t have to do if it was taken care of in the K through 12 (schools),” she said.
Connor said apprenticeship programs will also be vital for manufacturers. The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry has apprenticeship programs for construction trades, she said.
The U.S. Department of Labor awarded Minnesota a $5 million grant in October 2015 as part of its American Apprenticeship Initiative to expand registered apprenticeship as a workforce development tool in the industries of advanced manufacturing, agriculture, health care services, information technology and transportation.
“To move those into manufacturing is where the grow your own infrastructure is going to happen,” she said.
Connor said that when businesses decide to make changes, it is important to involve different stakeholders and to use data and not just intuition to make decisions. And before making any changes, communication and being transparent is key.
Robert Kill, president and chief executive officer of Enterprise Minnesota, said they do these workshops every month around the state.
Connor said running a successful business is fitting together pieces of a puzzle that includes strategic planning for opportunities, continuously looking to improve, developing a management system that encourages the company to act as a team and compensating the talent through pay and opportunities for rising up the company ladder.
“What we want is the attendees to walk out with a few thoughts they might implement back at their facility and get them to think a little broader than they did,” he said.
According to the most recent data from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, nearly 19 percent of all workers in Anoka County work in manufacturing. There are 550 small or mid-size manufacturing companies in Anoka County. The average weekly wage in manufacturing ($1,463) is about 52 percent higher than the average weekly wage for all industries ($959).
“We need to get more people to understand that these are good-paying jobs that could lead to a nice career,” Kill said.