Education and health care leaders stressed partnerships as the key to building a stronger workforce during a virtual roundtable.

Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove hosted the Wednesday discussion with Mankato area leaders about economic growth opportunities.

“We face a moment with significant workforce challenges in our state,” he said. “The pandemic has opened up opportunity for people to reconsider their options about where they live and work. And businesses and startups are growing at a fast rate across the country.”

Education and Mayo Clinic Health System leaders highlighted partnerships they already have formed and said more are needed to give students and adults hands-on exposure to prospective careers.

“To be able to build partnerships really means that we have the opportunity to connect students in our communities to more professionals in our communities to serve as mentors and really build that coalition of people who can support our students as they walk out of high school,” said state Education Commissioner Heather Mueller.

Mankato Area Public Schools Career Pathway Coordinator Kim Mueller said over 300 of the district’s students are doing internships or other work experiences. More than 400 additional students have done a job shadow or other short-term experience.

She applauded the partners in those programs as well as others who welcome in students for events such as the annual Tour of Manufacturing and the Scrubs Camp highlighting health care careers.

“Even competing businesses are willing to come together to look at how can we help this future talent pool explore and engage … and that is really powerful,” Kim Mueller said.

Brian Martensen, interim provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Minnesota State University, said post-secondary institutions also are enhancing student internship opportunities as well as bringing more real-world hands-on projects into the classroom.

“We’ve evolved to beyond the idea of just educating a citizenry or a workforce but really being true partners with the community and with industry in particular,” he said.

Laura Bowman, Mayo Clinic Health System Regional Director of Community Partnerships, said Mayo hosts career exploration programs that introduce young people to a variety of health care-related fields that extend far beyond doctors and nurses.

“The collaboration is so important because it really exposes our community members to all the possibilities in health care they may not have thought about,” she said.

Beyond high school and college pairings, participants said they also are working on partnerships that benefit older adults.

Heather Mueller suggested businesses could offer English as a second language or other classes at the workplace.

Mayo officials said their organization gives workshops for women at Mankato’s Life-Work Planning Center who are looking for a new career.

In Rochester it also works with educational partners on the Bridges to Healthcare program, which provides education and career planning resources to adults from diverse backgrounds.

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