RED WING -- Many students graduating from high school believe their next step should be a four-year college. That might be the right move for some students, but for others, different paths might make more sense, according to Catrin Wigfall, policy fellow at the Center of the American Experiment.

With that in mind, the Center of the American Experiment based in Golden Valley, Minn., launched a series of videos in 2018 called the Great Jobs Project. The videos feature workers discussing careers in industries that students might easily overlook.

“These are real Minnesotans,” Wigfall said. “They weren’t paid to say what they did, but they just described their experiences and the meaningful identity that they have created in their work and the purpose that they get out of it.”

Speaking to an audience of 40 people Dec. 17 at the St. James Hotel, Wigfall said the video series was targeted at an audience of 14 to 30 years old. She said the campaign was successful because it reached more than 2 million Minnesotans.

Because of that success, Wigfall said the project needed to take the next step which turned out to be building a coalition across the state to make sure that information and opportunities are readily available to students and workers who needed them.

Summit Academy, a vocational school in Minneapolis, was one of the first to get involved in the coalition, according to Wigfall. Since then, other technical colleges, high schools, businesses, and chambers of commerce have joined to help the cause.

A panel discussion on careers in Red Wing and Minnesota featured, from left, State Representative Barb Haley, State Senator Mike Goggin, Adam Gettings from Red Wing Ignite, Helena Kilbride from Red Wing Shoes, and Catrin Wigfall from the center of the American Experiment on Dec. 17 at the St. James Hotel. Steve Gardiner / Rivertown Multimedia
A panel discussion on careers in Red Wing and Minnesota featured, from left, State Representative Barb Haley, State Senator Mike Goggin, Adam Gettings from Red Wing Ignite, Helena Kilbride from Red Wing Shoes, and Catrin Wigfall from the center of the American Experiment on Dec. 17 at the St. James Hotel. Steve Gardiner / Rivertown Multimedia

Following Wigfall’s presentation at the Red Wing meeting, a panel, including Barb Haley, state representative; Mike Goggin, state senator; Adam Gettings, executive director of Red Wing Ignite; and Helena Kilbride, change and learning leader at Red Wing Shoes, answered questions from the audience and discussed the issues around training employees.

“We need to identify what kids get excited about,” Goggin said. “We need to help kids identify the areas they are interested in. We have to interlock ourselves with each other so we can develop programs for kids to follow.”

One other concern that Goggin expressed was that many kids feel concerned about the difference between four-year programs and programs that are two years or less.

“How do you get rid of that stigma of not having a four-year degree,” he asked.

Haley added that talking to students about educational options at earlier ages might help reduce that stigma.

“We need both parts of the training and educational spectrum,” she said. “It is a choice. One is not better. We need all of them.”

Haley expressed a concern for many students graduating and leaving the area rather than finding work here.

“We are doing the right thing,but we can’t do it fast enough,” Haley said. “We’ve got to retain and attract every one of those young people that we can.”