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Workplace skill-building program set for youth

The Northwest Minnesota Foundation has awarded a grant for $25,000 to help fund a program designed to increase workplace skills for at-risk, disconnected, disadvantaged and disabled youth in Beltrami, Hubbard and Clearwater counties.

The Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program will implement a pilot project that will help youth to obtain better technical, educational and soft skills in partnership with the North Country Vocational Cooperative Center, which will focus on workforce experiences for youth.

Arlin Melgaard, the project director, is a past NCVCC employee who is knowledgeable about youth programs and partners in the region.

"Ever since the SCANS (Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills) report was first introduced during President George H. W. Bush's administration, employers felt that most entry level employees needed better foundation and workplace skills, Melgaard said. "High schools struggled with the lack of an adequate curriculum, now finally we have a web-based curriculum that meets this need."

At least 20 employers and 20 at-risk youth employees will be introduced to web-based training along with ongoing assessments. They will also have the opportunity to acquire a National Career Readiness Certificate that can lead to better employment opportunities for at-risk youth.

The employers will receive mentoring training to help guide the employee/student through the process. In addition, RMCEP staff, school vocational instructors, administrators, career counselors, and NCVCC staff will receive training on how to use the web-based tools for potential expansion of the project for other youth employment programs.

According to RMCEP Operations Manager Craig Nathan, the training and assessment software programs and the accompanying certificate program are already widely used and recognized.

"Rural Minnesota CEP plans to use this pilot project to share best practices and lessons learned with other youth workforce providers," Nathan said.

"It is truly inspiring to see this project come together," he added. "The support that the Northwest Minnesota Foundation has provided to youth, along with Mr. Melgaard's experience in education, creates a partnership that will serve the region very well."

NMF's grant will be matched by RMCEP and NCVCC and includes in-kind contributions from employers, area schools, Northwest Technical College and the Bemidji Workforce Center.

"The three counties being served by this project have the highest poverty rates in the region," NMF President Nancy Vyskocil said. "Consequently, there are a large number of families whose children qualify for the youth employment programs, including a significant number of Native Americans.

"The foundation is pleased to support a project that will benefit these youth and involve partners from the public, nonprofit and business sectors," she said.

The Northwest Minnesota Foundation is a public community foundation serving Beltrami, Clearwater, Hubbard, Kittson, Lake of the Woods, Mahnomen, Marshall, Norman, Pennington, Polk, Red Lake, and Roseau counties. NMF invests resources, creates opportunities and promotes philanthropy to make the region a better place to live and work.