As part of the Center’s “Morning in Minnesota” breakfast series, I recently traveled to Red Wing and presented on our “Great Jobs Without a Four-Year Degree” project.

Our goal with the project is two-fold: raise awareness among young people and their parents about the exciting, well-paying career opportunities that don’t require the traditional four-year degree route and help employers overcome the “skills gap” and build the skilled workforce they need to thrive and grow.

Steve Gardiner, a reporter for RiverTowns, covered the breakfast event.

Many students graduating from high school believe their next step should be a four-year college. That might be the right move for some students, but for others, different paths might make more sense, according to Catrin Wigfall, policy fellow at the Center of the American Experiment.

With that in mind, the Center of the American Experiment based in Golden Valley, Minn., launched a series of videos in 2018 called the Great Jobs Project. The videos feature workers discussing careers in industries that students might easily overlook.

“These are real Minnesotans,” Wigfall said. “They weren’t paid to say what they did, but they just described their experiences and the meaningful identity that they have created in their work and the purpose that they get out of it.”

Speaking to an audience of 40 people Dec. 17 at the St. James Hotel, Wigfall said the video series was targeted at an audience of 14 to 30 years old. She said the campaign was successful because it reached more than 2 million Minnesotans.

The Great Jobs project reached young Minnesotans where they spend the majority of their time: social media. We used sophisticated social media targeting, and we combined that with real human stories so young people can see their peers thriving in jobs that they may not have known were so great. By using videos, viewers can physically see the myths and stigmas associated with trades and other technical industries collapse.

The social media campaign focused on five central themes:

  • These are not dark, dirty, and dangerous environments.
  • These are not jobs for unintelligent people
  • They pay well and don’t require insurmountable debt
  • They are more than just jobs; they help build career pathways
  • There is purpose and a sense of pride involved, a “bigger than yourself” mentality

Because the videos successfully identified so many young Minnesotans, we wanted to expand our reach and continue focusing on coalition building—building a diverse network of partners across the spectrum of organizations working in this area.

Our second round of videos, which launched early fall 2019, highlighted the powerful stories of underrepresented demographics and the training and educational programs they took to land their great job, including Summit Academy, IT Ready, and Dakota County Technical College.

Following my presentation, a panel discussion featuring Representative Barb Haley, Senator Mike Goggin, Red Wing Ignite’s Executive Director Adam Gettings, and Red Wing Shoe’s Change and Learning Leader Helena Killbride continued the conversation.

“We need to identify what kids get excited about,” Goggin said. “We need to help kids identify the areas they are interested in. We have to interlock ourselves with each other so we can develop programs for kids to follow.”

One other concern that Goggin expressed was that many kids feel concerned about the difference between four-year programs and programs that are two years or less.

“How do you get rid of that stigma of not having a four-year degree,” he asked.

Haley added that talking to students about educational options at earlier ages might help reduce that stigma.

“We need both parts of the training and educational spectrum,” she said. “It is a choice. One is not better. We need all of them.”

Haley expressed a concern for many students graduating and leaving the area rather than finding work here.

“We are doing the right thing, but we can’t do it fast enough,” Haley said. “We’ve got to retain and attract every one of those young people that we can.”

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