STAPLES - Approximately 110 school, agency, college, and business and industry personnel from throughout the region attended the Building the 21st Century Workforce Conference, Nov. 16, at Sourcewell in Staples.

This annual event was free and intended to help participants plan, build partnerships, and set regional goals in addressing workforce and student needs, Sourcewell reported in a news release.

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Brett Pawlowski, National Center for College and Career Transition, was the featured event speaker and shared his expertise in helping participants develop business-school partnership plans.

Bart Graves, education solutions career and college readiness consultant, said several Region 5 school districts participated and were better able to visualize potential business partnerships to promote career readiness.

"We are excited about the partnerships and relationships that are being formed as a result of this conference," Graves said in a news release. "We truly believe these plans can assist both students in career planning and meet workforce needs in the region. Currently, over 40 percent of our seniors are not attending post-secondary training initially and businesses can be great assets to help these, and all, students."

Bob Jackson, general manager at Stern Rubber Company in Staples, was one of a number of business and industry leaders from throughout the region in attendance at the conference.

Jackson said he has attended for the last several years but was especially intrigued this year due to the focus on business and school partnerships. Jackson also represented the Lakes Area Manufacturing Alliance, a regional group promoting manufacturing education in the schools.

Jackson said the conference allowed him, and other business leaders, an opportunity to meet face-to-face with educators and learn how they can better collaborate to create the workforce of the future.

"It's about communication and making connections between the businesses and the schools," Jackson said in a news release. "We're all facing a huge employee shortage in the future, so what can we do to try to prep kids (as) future employees? There are so many people in business that don't have a clue what's being taught in schools or question if kids are being taught the right things for the future. This is a great opportunity to interface with the schools and find that out. Are they focusing on the right things for what we need in the future for employees?"

The conference also allows accessibility for educators and their students to realize, first-hand, what's available right here at home for career opportunities.

John Thorson, math teacher at Pequot Lakes High School, is in the process of developing a course in trades mathematics. Thorson, who also attended the all-day session at Sourcewell, said he had previously met with a representative from Pequot Tool and Die inquiring what would be most optimal to include in the curriculum. Thorson spent a five-day externship at the Pequot business researching and learning more about the everyday processes at Pequot Tool and Die. He had the opportunity spend four days job shadowing and one day developing curriculum from those experiences, providing a new focus for the classroom.

"As a teacher at the high school, I'm pretty aware of the expense of college tuition and the opportunities that we're getting in the trades. A lot of students are overlooking trades as a career option. I've been encouraging, for a few years, that students do not overlook trades as a possible career instead of going into huge debt and getting out not knowing exactly what they're going to do."

Thorson said, through information gleaned from both the externship combined with the conference, he hopes to integrate mathematical-related issues experienced on a daily basis on the manufacturing floor back into his trades course and help students discover how to use what they've learned in the classroom to apply it to a career.

For more information about Sourcewell's career and college readiness initiatives, visit