Advice for families, students about Minnesota jobs

Joe Nathan
By Joe Nathan
ECM Columnist

Families, high school students and educators would be wise to spend five to 10 minutes reading Bill Blazar’s recent comments about jobs in Minnesota. Blazar is interim president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. In December, he described the large and growing number of technical jobs available now and in the future. His presentation is found here: http://bit.ly/16MeETd.

Blazar’s comments came in a presentation to Civic Caucus, a non-partisan group that discusses key Minnesota challenges and publicizes possible solutions.

He stressed, according to Civic Caucus, “how important it is for parents and students alike to recognize income potential from occupations requiring technical training.” Blazar pointed out: “A person with a high school degree can become licensed for operating heavy equipment with less than a year’s training and make a very good wage. Some who choose this route could later decide whether to pursue a four-year college degree.”

I asked what he considered his key points. He responded by email:

• The chamber’s survey of 350 randomly selected businesses around the state found that “fewer than half of employers believe Minnesota has plenty of workers with the right skills for their industry… More than half were dissatisfied with the number or quality of job applicants they received. Of those, 40 percent were seeking applicants with a technical education.”

• “There are high-paying opportunities in technical fields, including advanced manufacturing, that require less than a four-year degree. High school students are often unaware of these, and could benefit from more exposure to possible careers through internships, work experience, job shadowing or having employers visit the classroom.”

• “There are great examples of career exposure efforts across Minnesota, including in Brainerd, Grand Rapids and Detroit Lakes.”

Blazar emphasized that not all job-training programs are equally effective. He believes programs need to identify outcomes, regularly measure whether those outcomes are being achieved and publicly report the results.

I asked Dane Smith, president of the progressive group, Growth and Justice, what he thought of Blazar’s suggestions. Smith responded by email, “There’s a lot of good sense in Bill’s presentation and we like the chamber’s priorities on better workforce alignment between higher ed. systems and employers.”

Smith continued, “One concern, however, is that we not consign or relegate our growing populations in our communities of color to the two-year track or send them the message that they shouldn’t be aiming for the four-year degrees and graduate programs that correlate strongly with affluence and professional leadership in all sectors.”

Smith cited a 2014 report from Georgetown University describing how communities of color, nationally in his words, “are being herded in to less selective colleges and lower-paying careers.” The report found that, “Since 1995, 82 percent of new white enrollments have gone to the 468 most selective colleges, while 72 percent of new Hispanic enrollment and 68 percent of new African-American enrollment have gone to the two-year open-access schools.”

The report is found here: http://bit.ly/1ADvw9N.

Wanting to test Blazar’s and Smith’s ideas in a real world setting, I visited our local AT&T store. We’re repeat customers because of great service from people like Greg and Larry. I asked about their education backgrounds. Both have middle-class paying jobs. Neither has a college degree. They wisely urged youngsters to check out various jobs that interest them, and the educational requirements for those jobs. They do see value in education beyond high school.

New state law requires that all students develop a plan for what they will do after high school. What should families and educators advise youngsters?

Young people deserve accurate information and encouragement. This means listening to people like Blazar, Smith and the AT&T staff.

Families and schools should help youngsters identify what they do well and what jobs they might enjoy. Youngsters also should understand that some future jobs have not yet been created. Once they consider all these factors they can make wise, informed plans.

Joe Nathan, formerly a public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at [email protected]