At the Legislature

Minnesota manufacturers push for changes to open the workforce pipeline

By Kevyn Burger
Tue, 2017-02-14 16:24

The trade group representing Minnesota’s manufacturing industry has its collective eye on preparing and strengthening its future workforce, and is looking to the Capitol for support.

The Minnesota Precision Manufacturing Association is targeting the creation of new laws, as well as some changes in existing ones, to better ready the pipeline for the state’s next generation of skilled employees.

“Minnesota needs a better framework for work-based training for today’s 16 and 17 year olds. Our manufacturing workforce is aging and we need to increase the quantity and quality of workers coming in,” says Amy Walstien of Walstien Law & Consulting.

The former workforce policy director at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Walstein has been retained by the MPMA board to advocate for redesigned youth training programs in the 2017 legislative session.

The Youth Workforce Initiative the association is backing includes several key components to adjust and streamline current law.

“Employers want to offer internships and apprenticeships to high school juniors and seniors, but we have child labor regulations that complicate this. We need to more clearly define what the students can do,” Waldstein explains.

“We are continuing to work with the Minnesota Department of Labor to define program parameters,” she adds.

The MPMA’s initiative would also jump start the careers of students pursuing a career in manufacturing by allowing youth training program credits or hours to count toward college credit and/or a registered apprenticeship.

It would also help communities to design specific skills training programs that would meet specific workforce needs in their local areas.

Walstein is optimistic about finding bipartisan interest in the MPMA’s legislative priorities. She describes the initial hearings as positive.

She says that in the Senate, DFL State Senator Jason Isaacson, who has a long history backing workforce issues, is “strongly supportive,” while in the House, State Representative Jason Rarick, a Republican who is also a master electrician, is the lead author of the bill. She notes that it is also backed by DFL State Representative Tim Mahoney, a retired pipefitter.

“They see the need for this. We can put together a program that works,” Walstein predicts.

She sees urgency in the need for the changes.

“Over the last 20 years, there’s been more of a push for four year college for everyone. Policy decisions have pushed that over career and technical training, and we lost of generation of workers,” she says.

“We know these are the good, skilled jobs of the future. We have to make sure we’re taking action to bring in the next generation.”