The state has awarded Washington County a grant for a new manufacturing skills training program aimed at reducing disparities in employment.

Earlier this month, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) announced the grantees for its Minnesota Pathways to Prosperity program, which aims to boost skill sets among underrepresented populations, including people of color, English language learners, people with disabilities, people who have been unemployed for at least 26 weeks, and people with income at or below 200% of the federal poverty level.

The unemployment rate for black and Hispanic Minnesotans was 6.6% and 3%, respectively, in September. White Minnesotans had an unemployment rate of 2.8%, according to DEED.

The agency awarded $10.9 million to 42 grantees, roughly half of all applicants, officials said. Pending a final executed contract between DEED and the county, Washington County Career Force is set to receive $136,634 to partner with the Great Rivers Adult Education Consortium and Century College to provide training in manufacturing skills.

Since 2013, the county has offered an office technology skills program through the same grant. DEED’s existing relationship with the county, as well as the county’s new approach, made them a favorable applicant, said Hamse Warfa, deputy commissioner at DEED.

“We looked at the needs that exist in the industries that are in demand, and manufacturing is certainly one of them,” Warfa said.

Besides being an in-demand industry sector for the seven-county metro area, manufacturing ranks second to health care in Washington County for high-paying, in-demand jobs, said Tina Dudzinski, supervisor at the Washington County Workforce Development Division.

In 2017, roughly 9,400 manufacturing jobs in the county paid an average wage of $68,692, an increase of 14.3% from 2010, DEED data show.

Details are still being arranged, but plans center on a roughly 12-week course taught by instructors from Great Rivers and Century College for students 18 or older with at least a seventh grade education level, Dudzinski said.

This is a shift in format from the county’s existing office skills training program which runs for up to nine months, and is aimed to reach those who may not be able to wait an extended period of time to achieve necessary credentials for employment, Dudzinski said.

The course will cover core competencies for entry level manufacturing occupations, such as math, tool literacy and basic mechanical system components. It will also provide training in areas such as welding, soldering, mechatronics or panel building, Dudzinski said. In the process, students can earn a certified production technician credential.

In addition, the program will build on the education institutions’ existing partnerships with Cottage Grove-based Renewal by Andersen and Hastings-based Intek Plastics. The specific details of the partnership are still being worked out, Dudzinksi said.

Through the grant, students will also have access to financial aid for potential barriers to the class, such as child care, food or transportation, Dudzinski said.

“We rely on key partners like Washington County to help us achieve the goals and the vision we’re developing for the state, which is to shrink the labor shortage … and improve chances for our economy to perform at its peak,” Warfa said.