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Collaborators urge students to explore technical careers

Central Lakes College and three collaborators reported they have stepped up the preparation of educated workers to fill manufacturing jobs.

Partners include area manufacturers, the Bridges Career Academies and Workplace Connection, and the 360 Degrees Manufacturing and Applied Engineering Center of Excellence. The community and technical college in Brainerd and Staples annually trains hundreds of graduates equipped for good-paying jobs that require specialized skills.

The need continues to rise.

Jobs and careers in manufacturing technology are in high demand in Minnesota, paying wages and benefits that are 25 percent higher than non-manufacturing jobs.

“We’re in a hiring mode, as are a number of other manufacturers in the vicinity,” said John Newhouse, Lakeland Mold Co. president, Brainerd, in a news release. His firm was one of five in the area recently hosting a “tour of manufacturing” as part of the effort to attract more qualified employees. Others were Graphic Packing, Crosby; Pequot Tool, Jenkins; Clow Stamping, Merrifield; and Precision Tool, Brainerd.

CLC partners with not only the manufacturers but also with area school districts to develop interest among teens to explore opportunities in engineering, manufacturing, and technology as well as health and human services, business administration, and public safety.

“We want learners to explore what career technical programs can offer — real-world skills that can lead to satisfying careers — in an economy that demands a strong and skilled workforce,” said JoAnn Simser, Minnesota’s director for career technical education.

By 2018, about 70 percent of the state’s jobs will require some post-secondary education. For many of these jobs, a two-year, associate degree or less is sufficient.

Much of the emphasis is on community colleges and vocational schools because they are affordable and can quickly turn out job candidates. Employers increasingly are asking community colleges to create custom training programs for specific jobs.

More than 3,000 career technical education programs can be completed in two years or less. CLC has a number of them, such as the 10-month welding and fabrication diploma program. Mike Reeser is a welding instructor who has done specific training for welders at Lakeland Mold.

“For someone who wants to get into the workforce relatively soon with skills in blueprints, mathematics and essential soft skills related to communication, we’re here,” he said.

Three of Reeser’s current students — Jordan Hultgren, Pete Wolkenhauer, and Seth Strassburg — are employed as apprentices at Lakeland Mold, working modified shifts for $12 per hour four days per week when not in class. “They have the opportunity to work there once they have their diplomas,” Reeser said. “They probably will have a foundation to cross-train in several departments once they’re on the job full-time,” adding to their employability.

Other professions for which CLC provides training include robotics and automation, machining, computer technology, engineering, heavy equipment and diesel mechanics, and visual arts involving design and videography.

The college works with the Bridges Career Academies to enable high school students to take courses for college credits and jump-start a path to high-wage, high-demand careers in local communities.

Through its partnership of 10 institutions led by Bemidji State University, CLC can assist students, even working professionals move into new jobs that emerge in the dynamic manufacturing industry. Tuition reimbursement may be available through a student’s employer to sweeten the deal.

All courses were developed with a focus on academic knowledge, higher-order reasoning, problem-solving, and general employability as well as technical skills and knowledge related to a specific industry.

Information about preparing for college and career is available at

Information about the Bridges Career Academies and Workplace Connection is available at

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
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