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Survey: Minnesota companies worry about attracting talent; BHS Career Academies can help, officials say

Students from Bemidji High School's advanced construction class, part of the Bemidji Career Academies, put a wall frame into place on in 2016 while building a new home off Kimmur Road Southwest in Bemidji. (Pioneer file photo)

BEMIDJI—Minnesota manufacturers are confident about the future, but according to a survey presented Wednesday in Bemidji, concerns over the workforce remain. But those attending the presentation also learned about some growing programs that will help alleviate those concerns in and around Bemidji.

The 2018 State of Manufacturing Survey, conducted by Enterprise Minnesota, polled 400 executives from March 7-28. In their responses, 93 percent were confident about the coming months financially, and the majority said the past year's been one of economic expansion.

However, along with providing health care coverage, a top concern for manufacturers is attracting workers, followed closely by retaining talent. In a more specific part of the survey, 69 percent of northwest Minnesota companies said it's difficult to attract talent.

When asked about job candidates not being hired, 52 percent said a big issue is that applicants just don't have the skills for the positions. Another question was whether or not competitive compensation was a factor, with 24 percent agreeing it was.

Executives were also questioned on the following hiring factors:

• A long commuting time or distance being an issue, 19 percent said yes.

• A lack of perceived upward job mobility, 17 percent said yes.

• Lack of child care, 8 percent said it was an issue.

As for what jobs are most in demand, 41 percent of respondents said it was machine processor, with assembler following behind at 24 percent. Eight percent responded with welder, while engineer and administrative positions came in at 5 percent each.

On wages, 52 percent of executives said they plan for wage increases this year, while only 1 percent said decreases were scheduled; 45 percent said wages would remain flat.

In terms of investment, 36 percent said they were implementing employee development and leadership training while 63 percent said no.

Training for the future

Following the survey presentation, Thursday's meeting also included a panel discussion that included LaValley Industries President Jason LaValley, North Central Door Co. President Steve Palmer and Bemidji High School Principal Brian Stefanich.

In his remarks, Stefanich discussed the school's career academy programs and the positive impact they can have on the workforce.

"We know we have jobs here for our kids. The goal we have is to have our students get trained and have them raise their families here. I've been preaching that since Day 1," Stefanich said. "This is the 28th year I've just finished in education, and this is the best thing I've been part of. The academy is something I think every school in the nation should be doing."

Students enrolled at BHS' Career Academies are allowed to train in specific trades and focus area before entering college or the workforce. That includes coursework at the school, but also classes at post-secondary institutions, such as Northwest Technical College, as well as internships.

"The key to our success is the communication with our partners," Stefanich said. "We're getting calls nearly every day during the school year. Businesses are asking about getting involved with the academies."

For the upcoming school year, Bemidji High School will offer a total of 12 career academies. They include:

• Aerospace Technology.

• Art and Design.

• Automotive Technology.

• Business Management.

• Child Care and Education.

• Construction.

• Health Careers.

• Information Technology.

• Light, Sound and Video.

• Mechatronics.

• Natural Resources Management.

• Project Lead the Way Engineering.

According to Stefanich, when the academies were created several years ago, officials were hoping for between 50 and 100 students to register. They ended up with more than 240. This coming year school year, Stefanich said there's close to 500 students registered in Career Academies.

Matthew Liedke

Matthew Liedke is the city, county and state government reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He also covers business, politics and financial news.

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