Manufacturers, city, school study collaborative efforts

by Jim Boyle


Heads of local manufacturers, economic development professionals and school officials for Elk River High School met Nov. 28 to begin exploring ways they could work together to better prepare and encourage students in careers in manufacturing.

John Goslinga and Terry Morrell of Morrell Trucking, Paul Nelson of Elk River High School, Jeb Anderson of Minnesota Youth Apprenticeship Program and Dave King of Gladwin Machinery spoke during breakout sessions.

The meeting at Elk River High School, an offshoot of an earlier Manufacturers Connection meeting in Princeton that got the trio jazzed up about the notion of collaborating, brought to light a number of possibilities.

Among the lowest hanging fruits the groups agreed to work on include continued tours of local business and apprenticeship programs that would give students a taste of the future.

Along these lines the city of Elk River plans to work with manufacturers to develop videos that take students and possibly parents inside the four walls of area manufacturers to explain opportunities and establish what type of employees are needed.

Matt James, M & M Machine, spoke with teacher Jon Ostercamp while teacher John Peterson (far right) spoke with Sharon Hall, CDI; and Trish Mowry, Metal Craft.

The videos will also likely be used to paint a picture of model employees, and those employees who don’t work out as well or get fired.

Jeb Anderson, a former industrial tech teacher who was cut from a school budget and now leads the Minnesota Youth Apprenticeship Program for the state, also attended the meeting. He explained how he’s developing an apprenticeship program modeled after a successful one in Wisconsin.

“We’re here to show students that manufacturing is a great career,” Anderson said.

Other initiatives being examined by school officials and manufacturers include getting manufacturers involved in the process of updating the science and industrial technology curriculum. Science is being worked on this year, and industrial technology is up for review in 2013.

Educators and manufacturers seem to agree it’s time to break down some of the barriers preventing certain disciplines within the high school walls from collaborating as well time to get schools and businesses working well together.

“We often operate in silos,” Elk River High School Principal Terry Bizal said.

Manufacturers expressed an interest in providing software and, in some cases, machines to help prepare students on some of the industry production standards. They also expressed an interest increasing depth of students’ knowledge and skills.

They also suggested the after-school robotics program be required of industrial technology students.

One potential means of increasing the level of partnership and collaboration was to establish a manufacturing advisory board.

Manufacturers expressed a concern for shrinking industrial tech programs and wanting to see such programs head in a new direction.

Anderson said he could relate, having come from Anoka High School, where there were once nine industrial teachers and there are now three, and one of them is a floater.

“It’s a societal problem,” he said. “We need to create a pipeline for employers if we’re going to have success.”

Anderson said it’s all about relationships.

“If we can match the right kids with the right businesses, there’s no telling how far those student will go.”

Manufacturers’ survey identifies needs, areas of potential partnership

The Elk River Economic Development staff recently surveyed Elk River manufacturers on the topics of finding quality employees and how to best prepare students for a career in manufacturing.

Below is a summary of the results:

•When looking for an employee, manufacturers look for the following skills/attributes: flexibility, self-motivation, innovation, teamwork, technical skills, good communication, decision-making skills, desire to learn, courage, strategic thinking, positive attitude, good computer skills, good grammar, detail-oriented, strong work ethic, math skills (geometry and trig), passion, drive, integrity, attendance, creativity, mechanical aptitude

•Challenges they are seeing with current and potential employees include: lack of formal training in technical skills, work ethic, soft skills, attendance, negative attitudes, poor math skills

•Trends they are seeing as they relate to finding skilled laborers: formal training in technical skills, too much emphasis on four-year degrees, shortage in engineers

•Advice as to how to prepare a child for a career in manufacturing include: STEM curriculum, trade school technical degree with an energy focus, apprenticeships, shop courses, math courses (geometry and trig), communication courses (specifically reading and peer-to-peer), computer skills, critical thinking, problem-solving, courses to teach kids how to work with others and build relationships in the workplace, science courses, core manufacturing, general business, marketing, sales, leadership, conflict resolution

•Seven manufacturers said they’d like to review and provide input on a ERHS IT curriculum, two said no and one said maybe, depending on commitment

•Eight manufacturers said they are interested in providing facility tours, job shadowing and/or apprenticeship opportunities to students, one said no and one said maybe.