Renovation project will help shrink Minnesota’s skills gap
The last time the Transportation Careers and Technical Careers program areas at Dakota County Technical College were significantly modernized was 1973, the same year the Vietnam War ended, gas cost 40 cents a gallon and the average new house sold for $32,500. Today, the U.S. is winding down two foreign wars, the average price of gasoline is nearing $4 a gallon, and the average sale price for a new home is almost $270,000.
Another economic indicator on the rise is the skills gap, which can be defined as a mismatch between the skill sets workers possess and the skill sets employers need. The 2012 DCTC Transportation and Emerging Technologies Renovation bonding request targets the skills gap facing the state of Minnesota, a gap intensified by increasing employer demand for highly trained workers and projected declines in postsecondary education levels attained by Minnesota’s citizens. The college’s renovation project will help meet Minnesota’s need for a superbly skilled workforce by better preparing our students for the high-wage, high-skill, high-demand jobs that advance the state’s economy, including careers in STEM-related fields. STEM is a U.S. government acronym for fields of study in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
Across the Great Divide: Perspectives of CEOs and College Presidents on America’s Higher Education and Skills Gap, a report issued in March 2011, spotlights a fundamental schism in the U.S. employment market. Occupations requiring postsecondary education at some level have increased dramatically over the last 40 years while workforce skill sets continue to lose ground.
“In 1973, 72 percent of the nation’s 91 million workers had a high school education or less,” the report states. “By 2007, despite the workforce swelling to 154 million workers, those with a high school education or less had shrunk to 41 percent. Put another way, despite the total number of jobs in America increasing by 63 million, the number of jobs for those with a high school education or less actually fell by 2 million. And this decline will continue: by 2018 the share of jobs for workers with a high school education or less will be just 36 percent.”
Minnesota has one of largest skills gaps in the nation. All Hands on Deck: Fifteen Ideas for Strengthening Minnesota’s Workforce, a 2012 report from the Governor’s Workforce Development Council, concluded that Minnesota needs a relevant, modernized education and training system to prosper in the worldwide marketplace.
The report states: “Just seven years from now, 70 percent of Minnesota jobs will require education beyond high school. Our growing need for a highly-skilled workforce, which is among the greatest in the country, has been brought on by an increasingly competitive global economy and rapidly evolving technologies. Yet today, only 40 percent of working-age adults in Minnesota have a postsecondary degree, such as associate’s or bachelor’s degree. This growing skills gap has enormous implications for Minnesota’s economic competitiveness and the ability of its citizens to secure a middle-class lifestyle.”
Designed to attack the skills gap in ways that directly benefit students, the DCTC Transportation and Emerging Technologies Renovation Project also eliminates $3.5 million in deferred maintenance and reduces the college’s Facilities Condition Index from .29 to .22 while cutting energy consumption by as much as 30 percent. The college presented a $7.23 million capital bonding request to the state of Minnesota to fund the project. As of March 21, 2012, the legislative decision on that request is still pending. Completing the project requires $6.9 million in additional funding for 2014.
“Our instructors are the best in the business,” said GM ASEP Instructor Tim McCluskey. “They all have years of real-world experience working in the automotive, heavy equipment and trucking industries. Our curriculums are custom-designed to match the workforce requirements of companies that need our graduates, companies like General Motors, Caterpillar and Peterbilt. But without essential renovations, our facilities will continue to grow more outmoded, undersized and inefficient with every passing year.”
McCluskey noted that a great many students in Transportation Careers programs come from high schools with fully modern labs and shops. The dealerships and companies that hire DCTC graduates operate immaculate, state-of-the-art facilities. “We are the key element in the middle—and we are out of step,” McCluskey said. “As the trainers of tomorrow’s workforce, we know that doesn’t make sense.”
Nanoscience Technology Director Deb Newberry needs double the lab space—an improvement the renovation will provide—to give her students the time and experience they need to build the skills that will launch their careers in an industry with a worldwide market projected to reach $30.4 billion by 2015. Nanotechnologists make good money, too. O*NET OnLine reports the national median salary as nearly $30 an hour, or about $60,000 a year.
“Nanotechnology is a booming field with applications in manufacturing, robotics, materials research, medicine, electronics, green energy and more,” Newberry said. “Companies like 3M, Seagate, H.B. Fuller, Honeywell, IBM, Boston Scientific and St. Jude Medical need nanotechnologists to grow and compete in the global economy. The renovation project is crucial for our program to produce the number of skilled graduates needed to help advance the science and serve the nanotech marketplace.”
Casey Ludewig, 30, of Richfield, Minn., is a second-year student in the Auto Body Collision Technology program. A member of the Minnesota National Guard, Ludewig is looking forward to a career that pays on average nearly $26 an hour in the Twin Cities metro area. He is concerned that he missed out on an important learning opportunity because his program lacks waterborne paint booths. Now the industry standard, waterborne paints are far safer and more environmentally friendly than traditional solvent-based paints. Ludewig has been advocating for the new booths since he started at DCTC.
“My goal is simple,” Ludewig said. “Get a job after I graduate. Because I haven’t been able to train in a waterborne paint booth, that goal will be harder to achieve. The renovation project will give future students more skills and more opportunities not only in my program, but also in all the transportation and technical programs at the college.”
For more details about the DCTC Transportation and Emerging Technologies Renovation Project, take the 2012 Bonding Tour on the DCTC website
Or contact Erin Edlund, DCTC director of institutional advancement, at 651-423-8233