By Tim Krohn
---- — NORTH MANKATO — While President Obama was in Pennsylvania trumpeting a $600 million grant program to promote manufacturing training programs, South Central College officials and business leaders were at the North Mankato campus announcing SCC is one of three sites in the nation leading a pilot program that is part of the president's efforts.
SCC President Annette Parker said SCC will lead the Minnesota Advanced Manufacturing Apprenticeship Pilot in which community colleges and companies will work together to create apprentice programs that get students hands-on learning at manufacturing companies — apprenticeships that almost always lead to well-paying, full-time jobs in those companies.
"We have heard from many companies in southern Minnesota that are interested in apprenticeship programs," said Parker, who is one of 19 people serving on the national Advanced Manufacturing Partnership steering committee that helped developed the program announced by Obama.
SCC will lead a coalition of community colleges as well as employers in developing a statewide apprenticeship model in mechatronics.
Leon Johnson, manager of plant engineering global excellence for 3M, said his company is interested in such apprenticeships because of 3M's need for skilled workers.
"The need for technically dedicated people is very strong," Johnson said.
Tom Mayer of the Hutchinson 3M plant said their industry has evolved into a highly automated environment that requires more skilled trades people. "The skills we really need tie closely with the trade crafts from South Central."
He said word also needs to be spread to parents and high school students that a two-year skilled trade degree is a ticket to a job — and a well-paying one.
During Obama's remarks, which were streamed to SCC during the press conference, the president said that nine out of ten people in an apprenticeship get a job with the company and the average starting wage is $50,000.
Greater Mankato Growth President and CEO Jonathan Zierdt said his group has been long focusing on expanding the pool of talented workers in the Mankato area.
"Talent is one of the most fundamental components of economic success. That's why this type of work, this focus is so important," Zierdt said.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden announced the AMP program Wednesday at the Community College of Allegheny County West Hills Center in the western Pennsylvania borough of Oakdale.
Obama said the effort is a result of hearing from too many businesses that cannot find skilled workers for jobs they need to fill. On top of that, officials say many people who are looking for work may be open to learning new skills but need assurance that a job will be waiting for them at the end of a training program.
Obama's AMP program has two components.
The larger of the two grant programs will put nearly $500 million toward a job-training competition run by the Labor Department that aims to get employers and community colleges to create tailored job-training programs to fill existing job needs.
Another $100 million will be used for the American Apprenticeship Grants competition, aimed at apprentice programs such as the one being launched by SCC. It will focus on broad public/private/faith-based/nonprofit partnerships that help workers participate in apprenticeships
Obama used existing funds and executive actions to start the program.
Besides SCC's Minnesota apprentice program, colleges in California and Texas are leading similar programs.
Parker said SCC will also be applying for part of the $500 millions earmarked for job-training programs.