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Meeting on Dual Training Pipeline showcases opportunities for Bemidji area employers

A meeting hosted by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry on Wednesday in Bemidji introduced local employers to a dual training program as an avenue to address workforce shortages and needs.

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From left, Rob Sjostrand, Abby Randall and Tamara Lowney listen to a presentation about workforce needs in the Bemidji area during a meeting hosted by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, at the Bemidji Public Library.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — Area employers were introduced to a dual training program managed by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry as a potential avenue to address workforce needs in a meeting on Wednesday.

Held at the Bemidji Public Library, the meeting was one of several that have been held around the state by the department, each with the intent to hear the experiences and challenges of local employers and introduce them to a program that could help them train and retain skilled workers.

“We’ve been kind of running all around the state,” said Dan Solomon, a program consultant with the Department of Labor and Industry. “We really want to hear from you all, what your experiences are, all those sorts of things.”

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Minnesota Dual-Training Pipeline manager Dan Solomon discusses workforce needs in the Bemidji area during a meeting hosted by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, at the Bemidji Public Library.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

In the small meeting room, employers from the Bemidji area all the way out to Grand Rapids shared their experiences and the challenges they’ve been facing in hiring skilled workers.

Common themes throughout the discussion were difficulties competing for wages and the high level of staff turnover in nearly every industry.

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“We can hardly compete for hourly wages against Target and all of those (businesses),” shared Karolyn Teeters, of Northland Counseling Center in Grand Rapids. “We’ve been bringing in fewer and fewer (qualified candidates) and we can’t get anybody in the door.”

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Karolyn Teeters listens to a presentation about workforce needs in the Bemidji area during a meeting hosted by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, at the Bemidji Public Library.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Teeters also shared that paths toward advancement and moving employees up to higher positions has become more difficult as staff retention decreases.

“We used to be able to trade people and they’d move up to the next position. We’re not seeing that anymore,” Teeters said, “there’s so much staff turnover.”

These experiences were shared by other area employers who attended the meeting, regardless of their type of business.

Challenges like these are something that the Department of Labor and Industry’s dual training program hopes to address, explained Solomon.

The Dual Training Pipeline, a program that ties in on-the-job training with formal instruction that offers certification, licenses or degrees, is designed to help businesses invest in employees and their skills.

“It’s all about bringing education, stakeholders and resources together with business to create opportunities to train the workforce,” Solomon explained. “That’s really what it is at its core.”

Employers are provided assistance with developing a dual training curriculum, and their employees have the opportunity to earn recognized credentials in their fields and open a path toward career advancement.

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“You can grow your own (skilled employees),” said Kathleen Gordon, a consultant for the program. “You see a good employee at entry level, and you can see how they can grow in your company.”

Alongside the program, the Department of Labor and Industry also offers a paired grant to help employers meet the costs of providing dual training education.

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Erik Holtan speaks during a meeting about workforce needs in the Bemidji area hosted by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, at the Bemidji Public Library.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

For each of the 75 eligible occupations, which fall into four major industries — agriculture, information technology, advanced manufacturing and health care — the grant can offer up to $6,000 per student per year, for up to 25 students per employer.

“Grants open up in the spring, starting March 1 and going to April 3,” explained Solomon. “It’s gotten a little competitive, (but) almost everyone is funded.”

Solomon also shared that compared to most state grants, the application process is much simpler for this program.

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John Fick, left, and Jeremy Leffelman listen to a presentation about workforce needs in the Bemidji area during a meeting hosted by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, at the Bemidji Public Library.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

There are also hopes that this program will grow to include more occupations, potentially even outside of its current four industries, though adding additional industries would require legislative action to accommodate.

“When Kathleen and I started it was about 25, now it’s 75 occupations. We’re always interested in adding more,” Solomon said, “there’s such a demand.”

Employers can learn more about the program, its associated grant and how to get involved on the Department of Labor and Industry’s website.

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Robin Larson listens to a presentation about workforce needs in the Bemidji area during a meeting hosted by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, at the Bemidji Public Library.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Related Topics: BUSINESSMINNESOTAJOBS
Nicole Ronchetti is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on local government and community health.
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