The need for skilled workers in Minnesota is on the rise. Many companies are struggling to find qualified candidates from diverse backgrounds who have the right knowledge and skills to enter critical workforce positions. As a result, industries are facing significant workforce shortages and are seeing a growing skills gap in their applicants.
But an initiative called Legacy Minnesota wants to turn this trend around in the state’s energy industry by preparing underserved high school juniors and seniors in Minneapolis and St. Paul schools to become the future employees energy companies are looking for.
Legacy Minnesota was launched by the Minnesota Energy Consortium (MEC) in 2016 and is modeled after the Legacy I-3 Workforce Program developed by TCI Solutions of Phoenix in 2012. The goal of the program is to attract qualified, local, and diverse talent and develop them into viable candidates ready to meet the needs of the energy industry workforce. (Note: the program has been adapted to apply to construction, manufacturing, and healthcare, as well, but in Minnesota, the focus is on energy.)
Under the Legacy model, students acquire the competencies, skills, and knowledge associated with their desired future employment. They learn it takes a combination of personal and professional development to be successful in the energy industry and life in general. The Center for Energy Workforce Development(CEWD) summarizes the program’s approach:
Legacy begins its work with students by providing the foundational training to address needed life skills, such as emotional intelligence, critical thinking, and character development. Legacy believes employability skills cannot be properly addressed until these life skills are first introduced, since they are critical to helping a young person overcome the hurdles and realities of living in poverty and develop the mindset and context for moving forward into job readiness.
Common employability skills are then taught within the context of what they mean in a student’s personal, school, and work environment. For example, how does punctuality tie into the student’s personal and school life, and why is it important at the workplace?
Legacy also brings industry partners into the classroom to assist with teaching employability skills. “We select employers who have employees available for classroom visits,” said [Deon] Clark, [CEO of TCI Solutions], “and they give the students their perspective on what these skills mean, how they can enhance their chances of being hired and moving upward within the company.”
I had the privilege of sitting in on a Legacy session, led by Joshua Olatunde, Director of Training and Professional Development. Sessions are held after school on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and on Saturdays, as well.
The structure of the session was impressive: students stood and introduced themselves before speaking—every time; students could not answer, “I don’t know,” or shrug off a question; students were expected to speak clearly and confidently. They were free to express personal beliefs, obstacles or barriers, and attitudes but challenged to do so from a critical perspective.
Students learn their future employers place a high value on candidates with strong communication skills, critical thinking skills, financial responsibility, integrity, a consistent attendance record, and other qualities. Every session focuses on developing one of these different skills so that by the end of the program, students are ready for interviews with Legacy’s industry partners. As Mr. Clark shared with CEWD:
“We have been told consistently that our students give some of the best interviews these employers have ever conducted. They are impressed at how well they present themselves. And they are able to provide very useful feedback to our students, letting them know what employers are looking for in an interview. Our students are then able to articulate what they know about the company and what they have to offer.”
Legacy Minnesota brings awareness to good careers in the energy industry that young people generally don’t know exist. Students who graduate from the program become a pipeline of a new generation of highly qualified workers from diverse backgrounds. They know how to be a leader, an innovator, and accomplish whatever goal they set in their mind. Their legacy has begun.