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LSC expands to educate much-needed manufacturing workforce
Photo: Thirty-six fully functional welding stations are situated at LSC’s downtown Duluth campus. Submitted photo.
Minnesota’s latest available report on the difficulty of hiring manufacturing workers substantiates the persisting fact that machinist jobs are the hardest positions to fill at 78 percent, followed by machine tool operators at 74 percent and welders at 60 percent.
According to the Spring 2013 report conducted by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), the worker shortage can be attributed to a retirement gap, a skills gap as well as a multi-faceted demand gap.
“We’re seeing the demand in manufacturing, welding and machine technology rising because of retirement, but also because many people with these skills have moved to the Dakotas for the oil boom and in part because the region’s manufacturers are expanding,” explained Gary Kruchowski, LSC director of government relations and advancement.
The outlook for job growth plus the fact that wages are significantly higher than average adds appeal to the manufacturing classes – which can be seen in the college’s waiting lists.
“A lot of times, we had nine, 10, 11 students waiting to get into a welding course, but we couldn’t offer it because we didn’t have the space,” said Jenni Swenson, dean of business and industry.
In response, the college has opened a new campus. It’s in the former Davidson Printing plant in downtown Duluth, where LSC is moving its three Trade and Industry Career programs – Engineering CAD Technology, Integrated Manufacturing Welding, and Machine Tool Technology. Students will start or commence their studies when fall classes begin. Meanwhile a soft opening took place and a community-partnered 200-hour welding program was held in the months of June and July.
“We (had) very cramped facilities in particular for welding. We tripled the number of welding stations we had by moving to the new location,” Kruchowski said. Added Swenson: “We went from 16 semi-functional to 36 fully functional welding stations in a space that is 10,000 square feet.”
Besides offering a much safer instructional environment, the faculty is now able to hold five new classes in machine tool and CAD as well as four new welding classes with 18 students each. Current courses were increased from a class size of 16 to 18, adding 36 seats. In total, the college is now able to facilitate more than 100 new students and will offer for the first time a night cohort.
Another feature of the downtown campus is the fabrication lab, or Fab-Lab, where students learn reverse engineering utilizing the institution’s 3D printer. Swenson emphasizes that while integrated manufacturing is projected to be in high demand regionally by 2020, rapid prototyping specifically is projected to generate hundreds of jobs.
These are jobs the school is hoping to fill with its graduates. Like any community college, Lake Superior aims to address community workforce needs. Partnering with local industry helps to achieve a seamless transition for students to enter the workplace.
“Each of our programs has an advisory group made out of industry partners, and they actually help us devise the curriculum,” Swenson said. “They’re saying ‘This is what our new employees need. These are their skills’ and then we take this information and rework our program, continually update them to make sure we are providing employees that our region’s workforce needs.”
Such employers include Northstar Aerospace, Cirrus, Moline, Stanley LaBounty, Altec, Kramer Moen, Genesis Attachments, Exodus Machines, Nexen Group, Loll Design, Epicurean, Hydro Solutions and Ikonics.
Expanding to the new location posed some challenges, including financial ones.
“More typically, college programs are operated on campus. So to move these programs that were housed on campus to a larger facility off campus required more than a year of development,” Kruchowski said. They included evaluating costs, ensuring system policy was followed, finding resources to make the move and projecting revenue to support the development.
However, the $2 million investment for expanded housing makes the institution more competitive to receive large-scale grants or to take advantage of opportunities like becoming a certified HAAS training center. HAAS Automation is a California-based producer of manufacturing equipment, which typically requires its users to have some specialized training. Lake Superior College, which of recent houses the most HAAS equipment machines north of the Twin Cities, now can offer that training locally.
By moving into an expanded facility, LSC supports an opportunity for growth through sustained enrollment, but also responds to community needs by aligning its programs with the regional industry.
The new location, with its proximity to downtown businesses, presents long-term opportunities as well. Swenson said her department is working on delivering a two-year associates degree in Legal Administrative Support from the center to complement the two classes in legal studies that are currently offered at the downtown campus.
“We believe people will be more willing to head over on their lunch break and take a class instead of heading up the hill,” she said.Previous BusinessNorth Exclusives Articles:
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