Editor’s note:  Minnesota’s Department of Labor and Industry oversees the state’s “Pipeline Program,” which in simplest form aims to support employers in developing dual-training programs; initiatives composed of “structured on-the-job training” with a “chosen training provider.”

Pipeline—which stands for “Industry-Based, Employer-Driven Dual-Training Experience”—is a still relatively new program that awards companies up to $150,000 a year to cover expenses “related to an employee’s instruction toward attaining an industry recognized degree, certificate or credential.”  According to the Labor and Industry, 75 employers and nearly 1,000 trainees have recently participated, covering 36 occupations.

America Experiment Founder Mitch Pearlstein attended a Pipeline meeting on October 22 for a variety of industry, education, and other players at which an official of the Anoka Chamber of Commerce, John LeTourneau, made an intriguing comment about “70 percent of students in Anoka County.”  Mitch—whose newest book is the germane Education Roads Less Traveled: Solving America’s Fixation on Four-Year Degrees—asked that he participate in brief follow-up, email interview and he graciously agreed.

Mitch Pearlstein:  In a sentence or two, what does your job as Director of Manufacturing for the Anoka Chamber of Commerce entail?

John LeTourneau:  Facilitating a discussion with regional manufacturers that supports their efforts to build out the manufacturing industry while improving the growth of the entire economic engine locally.

Pearlstein:  I don’t recall exactly how you put it, but your comment had something to do with a remarkable 70 percent of students and the trades.  What was the finding and how was it arrived at?

LeTourneau:  We are addressing perception issues with manufacturing and how today’s manufacturing – not the manufacturing environment of even one generation ago – can and should be perceived as an attractive career option.  This relates directly to an additional perception that all secondary students should be on a four-year college track.  That’s another outdated assumption not well-aligned with today’s workforce needs or opportunities.  What we are discovering is that not all students are suited for four-years of college.  In fact, we have come to believe that 70 percent of students approaching postsecondary education are suited for careers in the trades.  Combine this with the ability of postsecondary learners to receive on-the-job training, and career technical education, at low or no-cost; align it with known career pathways; and then add the ability oftentimes to buy a home, start a family, and live in the community they grow up in.

Pearlstein:  How do you explain this unexpected interest?

LeTourneau:  There is a shift in the culture occurring.  Community-centered efforts, like those of the Anoka Chamber of Commerce Manufacture CoHort, are yielding higher levels of engagement among learners, academics, and industry.  Wide-scale efforts have been put into the education of parents and students regarding the opportunities available to those who choose careers in manufacturing.  Combine this with the resistance/hesitancy now attached to the high cost of a college education.  I would argue that interest in finding alternative careers such as those in manufacturing have always been there.  But it’s as if no one has been successful in defining and showing pathways for getting there until now.

Pearlstein:  What kinds of problems are manufacturers in your area having in recruiting and hiring enough good employees?

LeTourneau:  The greatest challenge is time.  It takes time to identify the issues, and several years to see the benefits of solutions.  Industry has been expanding, and we are only now becoming able to fill skill gaps and supply the workforce needed.

Pearlstein:  Anything else?

LeTourneau:  Students are the focus of the questions above, but we are using similar approaches to access and serve “alternative workforce” groups.  These include fair-chance job seekers, dislocated workers, diversionary workers, veterans, seniors, youth, and differently abled job seekers, among others.

Pearlstein:  Many thanks and good luck.

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