Central Minnesota Colleges Pick Up Pace In Manufacturing Training

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Pequot Tool and Manufacturing, whose 135 workers fabricate metal and plastic parts for aviation, agriculture, medical and other industries, is poised for growth in Pequot Lakes, about 25 miles north of here.

But the company is turning away customers, chief executive officer Karlo Goerges says. Goerges can't find workers with the right skills, he said.

And here in Brainerd, John Newhouse struggles with the same problem. He's president of Lakeland Mold Company, a manufacturer of custom molds, including things like plastic fuel tanks for agriculture equipment. Demand is up, but Newhouse, too, has had to turn down business because workers skilled in machining, fabricating and welding are scarce.

Goerges and Newhouse are hoping theirs will be among the companies ultimately benefiting from a $13 million federal grant to a group of community and technical colleges in central Minnesota. The U.S. Department of Labor provided the money to focus on advanced manufacturing education in an effort to close what many see as a gap between what employers need and the training that potential workers can obtain.

The grant was among $500 million awarded to nearly 300 technical colleges and universities across the country, all with the goal of developing and expanding innovative training programs in manufacturing.

Employers across the country have complained for years about the so-called skills gap. A national survey released last month by the Society for Human Resource Management showed that nearly half of employers said candidates didn't have the right skills for the job.

In Minnesota, there are a variety of reasons employers can have a hard time finding employees, from pay to location to housing availability, but the skills gap is most prominent in the manufacturing sector. Companies say high-tech and even entry level jobs are tough to fill. What used to be, say, simply a welding job, now demands computer skills, robotics, adaptability, flexibility and more.

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