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Potential MN job crisis ‘ought to make you nervous’

MARSHALL -- Nova Tech Engineering and its 40 employees moved 10 years ago from a pole shed on the west end of Willmar to the park-like setting of the Minnesota West Technology Campus.

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Jim Sieben of Nova Tech of Willmar speaks at a regional workforce summit hosted Wednesday by the Southwest Initiative Foundation on the campus of Southwest Minnesota State University, Marshall. Jim Tate/Southwest Minnesota State University

MARSHALL - Nova Tech Engineering and its 40 employees moved 10 years ago from a pole shed on the west end of Willmar to the park-like setting of the Minnesota West Technology Campus.

It now boasts 144 employees and an annual growth rate of 20 percent, but only because it is meeting the challenge of recruiting the skilled employees it needs.]

There have been engineering positions that have taken two years to fill. Skilled machinist positions on the company’s production side have sometimes taken as long as 18 months to fill, Jim Sieben, company president, told an audience at a regional workforce summit hosted Wednesday by the Southwest Initiative Foundation on the campus of Southwest Minnesota State University, Marshall.
And when it comes to recruiting workers, Sieben might have been talking about the good times.
Minnesota is facing a “perfect storm’’ that threatens the very special position that it holds in the national economy due to the availability of a skilled labor pool, according to Steven Rosenstone, chancellor, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.
“It ought to make you nervous,’’ Rosenstone told the audience of community leaders from throughout the region. “It scares the heck out of me if we do not do something differently.’’
The challenges start with the exodus of the baby boomer generation from the workplace. In the next 10 years, 600,000 baby boomers will leave the workplace in Minnesota due to retirement; in 15 years, the total will be 1.3 million.
If the economy grows even at a modest pace, another 63,000 jobs will need to be filled beyond those made vacant by retiring baby boomers.
Not only do the workers need to be replaced, but they will also need to be replaced by people with a stronger set of skills, according to Rosenstone.
Where the workers will come from is the challenge: Within a decade, Minnesota is expected to have its slowest population growth rate in its history.
Due to the slow population growth, the number of high school graduates has dipped by 8 percent since 2010. The decline isn’t expected to reverse itself until 2023.
A decade ago, about 14 percent of high school graduates in Minnesota who went on to college left the state to do so. Data from just over a year ago shows that 21 percent now leave the state for higher education, according to Rosenstone.
It’s projected that 70 percent of the population growth that will occur in the next 25 years will be among populations of color in the state. “And we know that those communities traditionally have been under prepared ... with the job needed to be done,’’ Rosenstone said.
Minnesota has a poor track record when it comes to educating its populations of color. The state has one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation. States such as Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana have smaller gaps, he said.
One third of students of color who enter high school in Minnesota do not graduate on time. “And too many of our (high school) grads regardless of color are simply not prepared for post-secondary education,’’ said the chancellor.
And yet, by 2020 it’s projected that 74 percent of all the jobs in Minnesota will require some post secondary education, he added.
“The talent crisis that we are confronting is a profound one,’’ he said. “We have to tap our talent and do it better than we have ever done it before.’’
Sieben told his audience that Nova Tech has seen improved success in recruiting new workers, but said it still faces challenges. It’s currently struggling to fill some technician-level positions.
And yet, the Nova Tech president made it clear that he sees no role more important for communities and companies today than to create the good jobs people want. He cited the recent book “The Coming Job Wars’’ by Jim Clifton, chairman of Gallup. “If counties and cities fail at creating jobs, their societies will fall apart,’’ he said, quoting Clifton.

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoors reporter for the West Central Tribune.
He has been a reporter with the West Central Tribune since 1993.

Cherveny can be reached via email at tcherveny@wctrib.com or by phone at 320-214-4335.
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