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It’s time to re-skill Minnesota

To maximize the economic recovery we need to support workers in finding careers that require additional skills, have a strong future, and offer better pay.

construction site
Photo by Shivendu Shukla on Unsplash

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a paradox in Minnesota’s economy. While hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans are unemployed, there are thousands of businesses across the state who are struggling to hire. For example, we’ve lost 60,000 jobs in hospitality in the last year, but there are 120,000 job vacancies across the state in other fields like health care and manufacturing.

In other words, this is a unique recession – unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

As the economy grows over the coming months, there is an opportunity for unemployed Minnesotans to consider jobs on new career paths. To maximize the economic recovery we need to support workers in finding careers that require additional skills, have a strong future, and offer better pay.

While pandemic-related concerns about workplace safety or child care needs are real, vaccination and the return to school are changing those dynamics.

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Regardless, changing jobs is hard. And retraining can feel daunting. That’s why government and businesses need to step up and empower more workers to pursue new opportunities.

First, we need to provide Minnesotans with the information they need to understand the possibilities. At the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), we’ve built new resources to understand the jobs in demand in Minnesota during this pandemic. In our jobs in demand listing, we rank each occupation by both demand and wage, and list the training needed to find those jobs.

The sweet spot for a job seeker is a job that is not only in high demand, but has some retraining component that supports skills advancement. That’s because retraining gives people credentials and new skills that provide additional flexibility and economic opportunity. A recent study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that those most in danger in America’s economic recovery are those with a high school degree or less.

Here in Minnesota, the most plentiful opportunities for better jobs tend to be in health care and information technology, but there are also opportunities in construction; installation, maintenance, and repair; manufacturing, and office work. Many employers may offer on the job training for these new opportunities.

Commissioner Steve Grove
Commissioner Steve Grove
Over the last month, DEED has transformed our state’s 50 CareerForce locations into proactive call centers, dialing up thousands of unemployed Minnesotans directly to discuss these opportunities, assess their skills, and connect them with new job and training opportunities.

Second, to help re-skill Minnesota we need to create clear pathways for people to change careers. There are some great tools to help people – from online assessments to retraining programs and more. This week, we built a new one-stop-shop for all of these tools, called “Good Jobs Now,” at CareerForceMN.com/GoodJobsNow.

But we need more tools to accelerate this work. That’s why this legislative session, Gov. Tim Walz is advocating for $35 million in workforce stabilization dollars, which will help Minnesotans train for in-demand jobs at MinnState institutions across the state. Additionally, we’re pushing for reforms to the state’s workforce development fund, making it more flexible to provide re-skilling dollars where they are needed most and creating new grant programs for innovative ideas in training Minnesota workers.

Lastly, government and business need to be working hand in hand to explore new solutions to help Minnesota workers transition jobs. Here, we can look to other countries for inspiration.

Earlier in the pandemic, Scandinavian Airlines in Sweden had to lay off 90% of their staff due to global travel restrictions. So, leaders there did something very interesting: They built a public-private consortium to create a short program to train flight attendants to be nursing assistants in the Swedish health care system.

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The flight staff already had training in basic medical response and were used to dealing with people in high-stress situations – so the transition made sense, according to a Harvard Business School review of the program. Over 300 cabin attendants re-skilled into these jobs and the program expanded into training hospitality workers to find jobs in school systems.

These are the kinds of partnerships and ideas we need to put Minnesota’s workforce on the forefront of the changing global economy.

Many Minnesotans understandably are waiting to return to their sector of employment from before the pandemic. And as the economy reopens, many will. But the rebounds that follow economic downturns never bring back the same economy that existed before. At the same, we are still experiencing global trends toward automation and digital technology that existed before COVID-19. In 2017, the McKinsey Global Institute estimated 14% of the global workforce would have to switch occupations or acquire new skills by 2030 due to automation and artificial intelligence. That same study revealed that 87% of executives said they saw skill gaps in the workforce.

The economy is changing, and Minnesota needs to proactively plan to meet future needs. If we do the right things, we can set our state up to be a leading hub of the American recovery that lies ahead. To get there, we need to help more people consider new opportunities in the next chapter of Minnesota’s economy.

Steve Grove is the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

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