Vocational training, long absent from public schools in Minneapolis, could return to the curriculum as part of the economic development plan being advanced by mayoral candidate Don Samuels.
The plan also would offer incentives for businesses to move to Minneapolis, streamline the permit process for contractors and developers and adapt customer-service from the likes of Target and Best Buy.
“We have to find a way to get young people to discover their talents and mechanical skills, to see a path to a career,” said Samuels, who would like to bring back vocational training in public schools.
Those programs would provide training in a “blue collar” profession that could feed into advanced training at such facilities as Summit Academy and Minneapolis Community and Technical College. Vocational training has been phased out of most public school programs because of the expense of keeping pace with rapidly changing technology.
“We have young people who have never seen a plumber’s trade up close unless somebody shows up at their apartment building to fix something,” said Samuels, who notes that skilled “blue collar” jobs produce needed paychecks that can support a family.
The building slump during the last five or six years, combined with baby boomers nearing retirement age, makes the option of a “blue collar” job more attractive, according to Samuels.
Another factor he cites in the decline of the “blue collar” option is the number of building-trades workers who have encouraged their children to “aspire higher than they did” and to work with their minds instead of their hands.
“This gray tsunami we’re facing is not just in the middle-class ‘white collar’ work force,” said Samuels. “It’s also very intense in the trades.”
To attract manufacturing businesses to Minneapolis Samuels would create a public/private partnership called the City of Lakes Investment Fund, which would offer grants and forgivable loans to businesses willing to re-locate in the city.
“There are a lot of companies that want to be closer to the workers,” said Samuels, citing a suburban manufacturing company that currently employs many city workers but requires a two-bus commute.
“A little incentive could sweeten the deal,” said Samuels. That company could be eligible for help with re-location and startup costs in exchange for a pledge to create a set number of city jobs with what Samuels calls a living wage.
To make it easier for contractors and developers to get their building permits Samuels would borrow from a system now in place for those with rental licenses. Under that system, property owned by landlords with no tenant complaints is inspected every eight years while properties with many complaints are inspected yearly.
“We put our contractors and developers through the gauntlet, as we should, to make sure our rigorous system prevents bad work,” said Samuels. He would ask the Community Planning and Economic Development Department to come up with a process for those with a good work record to move through the system quickly.
“It seems futile that they should be standing in the same line as Uncle Bill, who is remodeling his bathroom,” he said.
Samuels would also expand two city programs now aimed at low-income high school and college students to introduce employment opportunities in both the public and private sector.
The Step Up program brought 1,800 high school students into Minneapolis offices and private businesses this past summer for paid internships. The program for low-income college students, called Urban Scholars, provided 17 paid internships with the city.
“These are kids whose parents and their parents were poor people,” said Samuels, adding that many of these students get their first look at an office job and “a light of opportunity.”
“They learn how to respect their minds as a source of income,” said Samuels, who would expand both programs.
He also would try to change the feeling that “people are not valued as customers” by the city by working with Target and Best Buy to improve customer service.
“Make people feel welcome, facilitate the process for them, empathize with the sense of feeling disoriented in their new experience and bend over backwards to serve them as if there’s a competitor across the river trying to take our business,” Samuels said.
He also would work to build the population of Minneapolis to make a stronger tax base, establish streetcar lines and move ahead on the Bottineau Light Rail Line connecting the northwest suburbs to downtown Minneapolis.