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Displaced workers, returning vets sought for high-tech training on the way to high-pay jobs

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Grant dollars flowing into Central Lakes College are going to help veterans and displaced workers train for good-paying manufacturing jobs.

The U.S. Department of Labor awarded Central Lakes College (CLC) and three institutional partners a $13.1 million grant to expand educational opportunity in advanced manufacturing. CLC will get more money than originally projected as it works as consortium leader. Instead of $3.7 million, CLC will receive $5 million with the grant.

The coalition of CLC, St. Cloud Technical and Community College, Pine Technical College and the 360 Degree Center of Excellence at Bemidji State University will train workers for high-wage, high-skill jobs.

Thursday, CLC officials were among those gathered at Wilson Tool in White Bear Lake with Deputy Labor Secretary Seth Harris to highlight the effort at job training partnerships between employers and community colleges.

Jeff Wig, dean of career and technical programs and Staples campus at CLC, said more money was allocated to CLC to cover central costs in running and evaluating the grant.

“Definitely at the Staples campus this is going to be very big,” Wig said. “We are going to have two new manufacturing programs over there. We should have 8 to 12 new staff positions for the three-year cycle for the grant at Staples.”

For displaced workers laid-off because of the Great Recession, as jobs are lost to overseas competition or for returning veterans making the move to civilian life, the manufacturing jobs provide a welcome wage.

For students, there is also an opportunity to take free classes by using as Rural Minnesota CEP grant to get into pre-manufacturing classes. Those classes are designed to get students into free classes to help them be successful in a manufacturing program. A couple of the free classes are ones required in CLC’s manufacturing degrees or programs. The college has been struggling to find people who are interested in taking those free classes.

“It’s just hanging out there and free,” Wig said, adding people just need to reach out and grab it.

Those free classes could be a stepping stone to a significant paycheck.

At Wilson Tool, Wig said the starting wage is $18 an hour. After a probationary period, those employees can expect to make $23-$25 per hour. And many are also collecting overtime. Jobs in demand include machinists and welders and those from Staples’ robotics program.

“It’s not unheard of for a machinist after a one-and-a-half-year program to be making $50,000, so there is definitely a quick payback,” Wig said. “I think we could have placed everyone of our Staples machinist graduates last year three times. Robotics technicians are the same way.”

Machinists, who may find work at Lakeland Mold or Pequot Tool in the lakes area, operate expensive computer controlled metal shaping machines. The machinists program machines for complex cutting and shaping and drilling. Wig said Pequot Tool does that very work for the Desert Eagle pistol.

The college plans to work in general areas such as reverse engineering or rapid prototyping and then meet with the local manufacturing alliance to see what exactly are the needs in the industry. Another area of focus is on the plastics industry, including the manufacturing of metal molds for plastics.

Wig said they want input from the manufacturing alliance to see where the jobs of the future will be.

“Because we have a real singular opportunity to bring some programs on board,” Wig said. “It just makes it so much easier for a college to start new programs when you have this level of financial support.”

To help reach out to displaced workers, CLC will have at least two people whose job is based on outreach and advising. They’ll make connections with work force centers, attend job fairs and work with manufacturers and human resources professionals.

Eight manufacturers in the lakes area — from Crosby, Brainerd, Staples, Pequot Lakes and Little Falls — signed on to provide donations of cash or equipment or staff time to mentor students and to serve on advisory committees to create these programs.

“One company in Staples would like to add an entire second shift,” Wig said. “Their challenge right now is they can’t get enough people or they would start that expansion right now.”

Students with skills will find a lot of employers vying for their talents, Wig said.

“I look at this as an economic development tool. If we can say we have a lot of people interested in manufacturing careers and going for training, that could cause companies to expand here or even locate here because they are looking to find good, trained employees.”

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

About the training effort

■ Consortium members have been working to expand the educated labor pool in direct response to local manufacturing employer needs, with a recent emphasis evolving in the advanced manufacturing arena. The emphasis is on metals manufacturing, plastics and composites, automation technology, and rapid prototyping.

■ The Regional Advanced Manufacturing Retraining (RAMR) program created by the grant aims to counter the loss of jobs that have often moved overseas. More than 8,700 manufacturing workers in Minnesota have either lost their jobs due to foreign trade or are under constant danger of job loss since Jan. 1, 2007.

■ Officials predict RAMR will result in a pool of more than 3,900 high-skilled technicians ready to work throughout Minnesota and two counties in Wisconsin.

■ Through the program, introductory manufacturing courses, adult basic education and college developmental education will be involved to improve student retention and success.

■ Intensive student services will be provided to assist students overcome barriers.

■ Access to introductory courses will be expanded and online courses enhanced in basic manufacturing skills.

■ In addition to the college partners in the grant, 18 regional manufacturing businesses pledged their support in the form of cash, equipment and other support valued at more than $2 million. And, more than 20 other government agencies, school districts and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe also pledged their support.

■ The grant is part of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training initiative, which promotes skills development and employment opportunities in fields such as advanced manufacturing, transportation and health care, as well as science, technology, engineering and math careers through partnerships between training providers and local employers.

■ The U.S. Department of Labor is implementing and administering the program in coordination with the U.S. Department of Education.

■ The plan to educate Trade Adjustment Assistance-impacted workers, veterans and other dislocated workers is built around a six-step process, with multiple exit-to-employment points throughout.

■ The grant emphasizes evidence-based program design. CLC and consortium partners are required to collect rigorous student outcome data annually and conduct final evaluations at the end of the grant period to build knowledge about which strategies are most effective in placing graduates in jobs.

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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