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Business North - Around The Region - Duluth & Superior Newspaper
New program helps manufacturers, new workers
PHOTO: Employees at Epicurean install silicone corners on the company's cutting boards.
Several Duluth-area organizations are collaborating to help match unemployed or underemployed people with manufacturing employers that need workers.
Partners in the project include the Local Initiatives Support Corp., Duluth at Work, SOAR Career Solutions, Community Action Duluth, Lake Superior College and the Minnesota Workforce Center. Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) has provided a grant to help fund the project.
They have worked together to create the Certified to Work program, which is less than a year old. Using information gathered from local employers, Lake Superior College (LSC) has created a 200-hour machine operator class that, thanks to DEED, is free to participants.
“Students go to school six hours per day, four days per week in a manufacturing-type setting,” said Steve Wagner, LSC’s executive director of workforce and community development. “They know what they’ll experience when they get out in the real world.”
Numerous manufacturers currently are need people having the skills to operate today’s manual and computer-assisted machines, he said.
“The 200 hours of training really gets people ready to operate this type of equipment,” Wagner said.
Certified to Work goes beyond job-specific training, according to Emily Larson, who coordinates the Duluth at Work program.
“Some of the instruction involves hard skills workforce training, bit it also addresses financial literacy training and cognitive change training. We take a holistic approach,” she said, preparing participants for jobs including machine operator, welder, construction worker, industrial sewer and hospitality worker.
The training also helps students develop their resume, prepare for interviews and identify their personal assets, said Emily Edison, executive director of SOAR Career Solutions.
“We want to increase people’s incomes by 25 percent over three years,” Larson explained. “What we find is that when we train people and they stick with us and we stick with them, they increase their income by over 150 percent.”
Duluth-based Epicurean, a maker of cutting boards and other kitchen utensils, is among the firms that works with the program to recruit trained manufacturing employees. During a tour last week, Production Manager Kyle Campbell said the company is having excellent results through the program.
Manufacturing jobs, Wagner believes, offer good careers for area workers.
“One thing many people don’t realize is that these are good-paying jobs, provided in a clean environment. Many still think manufacturing occurs in a dirty, loud environment. In most cases, that’s not how it is,” he said.
Workers who continue their education through a subsequent two-year programs, Wagner added, earn higher pay and advance to positions of higher authority at manufacturing firms.
“We have hundreds of great manufacturing companies in town that are looking for skilled labor,” he said.
The collaboration has created “a really reliable go-to place for a certain set of employers” who need trained manufacturing workers, Larson said.
“We ask participants ‘what are your skills, what are your goals’ and we help them to get good jobs,” she said.
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