WORTHINGTON - As Baby Boomers look toward retirement, employers are looking for new skilled workers to take their places and to expand the workforce. In an effort to fill needs for skilled laborers, Minnesota West Community and Technical College has partnered with a number of other schools and business partners to offer training in a number of different fields.

At the Worthington BiO Conference Thursday afternoon, three panelists - Roxanne Hayenga of Minnesota West; Abigail Wilking, training and development manager at JBS; and Dawn Regnier, Minnesota West Dean of Customized Training - discussed a unique partnership between the two entities to fill openings at JBS. Due to the physical facility expansion and adoption of automated processes, JBS needed to find new employees with specialized training for the facility.

With a shortage of skilled machine maintenance mechanics and technicians throughout the region, it was unclear how these positions would be filled. Further, JBS anticipated retirements in its maintenance department. Compounding the issue, there wasn’t a college degree program in the region that offered the type of training a future employee would need.

To tackle the problem, JBS took a “grow our own” approach by partnering with Minnesota West to establish an industrial maintenance degree program. Likewise, JBS dedicated resources to raise awareness about career opportunities at JBS in local high schools and throughout the community beyond line work.

A Minnesota Job Skills Partnership Grant for incumbent workforce training and industrial technology curriculum development along with a Department of Labor TAACCCT Grant enabled Minnesota West to begin offering a new industrial technology certificate, diploma and associate’s degree program. Minnesota West received approval from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System Office in July 2014, and by August seven students had enrolled in the program.

JBS offered full and half scholarships to potential students. The company conducted an application, testing and interview process to determine scholarship recipients. Likewise, scholarship winners had to sign an employment contract with JBS to receive the money.

During the first term of the college course, JBS hired all seven students as interns in the maintenance department to offer real-life experience beyond what was being taught in the classroom. All seven students completed the program and received a industrial technology diploma. JBS then hired all seven as permanent employees with a wage increase.

Following the success of the pilot program, 19 students joined the program in August 2015. Wilking said JBS is considering offering the program to employees at other JBS locations in Iowa and Kentucky. Wilking said the company would bring mechanics to Worthington to receive training before returning to the other locations, making JBS’ Worthington plant the hub of the company.

Hayenga explained that Minnesota West has worked to meet the needs of other employers in Worthington as well. The college officers training in health care, welding and commercial driving. To fill a need in the Worthington ISD 518 School District, Hayenga said the college also offers community interpreter training, stating that 72 different dialects are spoken by parents of students in the district. Hayenga said those enrolled in the interpreter program also learn medical terminology, which offers yet another career path.