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When Minnesota State College Southeast conducted a survey of 21 area companies, they learned there is a strong need for training new workers in mechatronics.

On the survey, companies “projected 98 new hires in the next three years,” said Katie Hardyman, director of business relations at MSCSE, “and 81% of new hires will need some sort of mechatronics training.”

Mechatronics is a field of training that involves a combination of mechanical systems, electrical devices, and automation. MSCSE offers Mechatronics Technology on its Winona campus and ran the survey to see if there is enough interest to expand the program to the Red Wing campus.

Katie Hardyman, director of business relations at Minnesota State College Southeast, is serving as the project manager to get the mechatronics program started on the Red Wing campus.  Photo by Katryn Conlin
Katie Hardyman, director of business relations at Minnesota State College Southeast, is serving as the project manager to get the mechatronics program started on the Red Wing campus. Photo by Katryn Conlin

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Supported by a $400,000 Minnesota Jobs Skills Partnership grant, the Red Wing campus will collaborate with seven industry partners to bring mechatronics training to the area.

“The businesses involved in the grant are committed to participating in the design and development of the curriculum as well as enrolling their employees in the training,” according to Hardyman. “What’s unique about our program is that we have a seven-company cohort. That does not normally happen. Usually it is one company and the college that apply for a grant.”

Area manufacturing companies involved in the project include Red Wing Shoe Co./S.B. Foot Tanning Co. and 3M Fall Protection in Red Wing; Ardent Mills, Hearth and Home Technologies, Pepin Manufacturing, and Valley Craft in Lake City; and Gemini in Cannon Falls.

Beyond the MJSP grant, the mechatronics program also received $80,000 additional funding. Of that amount, $50,000 came from the Red Wing Area Fund, 3M Fall Protection, and Gemini, Inc. and $30,000 through a leveraged equipment grant from Minnesota State.

Mechatronics technicians work with industrial electricians, engineers, and technical support staff to ensure that production processes and equipment can be expanded and sustained in a wide range of industries. Companies in the Southeast Minnesota region have struggled in the past to find qualified candidates to fill these technical roles, which limits their ability to satisfy demand and meet customer requirements.

Classes set to start

“The training classes will start in January,” Hardyman said. “Right now we are purchasing equipment, hiring instructors, and getting all the infrastructure ready to go.”

The first two classes will be on electricity and will include Introduction to AC and Introduction to DC. Andy George, the mechatronics instructor on the Winona campus will oversee the programs on both campuses and adjunct instructors will teach the new classes in Red Wing.

Hardyman said 35 employees from the seven companies are signed up to take these classes and one of the challenges is meeting the many schedules with workers from different companies working different shifts.

“This is no easy task,” Hardyman said. “These are not online classes. These are very hands-on classes.”

Because MSCSE has had strict protocol for people coming onto campus, they have experienced very low numbers of COVID cases, so Hardyman is scheduling these classes on campus.

“We may have to pivot,” she said, “depending on what happens with case numbers in the Red Wing area. We want to keep our students, staff, and faculty safe, but for now, we are moving forward with starting the second week of January.”

“The main purpose of the Minnesota Job Skills Partnership grant is to help local businesses, but it is also to add curriculum to the local college,” Morem explained.

“Many of our technicians have been promoted from production departments and need advanced training, but we are quite a distance away from a training facility that can provide the skill and education needed. These locations are more than an hour away from Lake City,” said Brian English, community relations manager of Hearth and Home Technologies. “This distance makes it very difficult to train our staff while providing maintenance support to the production lines. With the Red Wing Campus developing a mechatronics program, this will allow the maintenance staff great opportunities to obtain the needed training locally.”

Grant sets up technical program

The curriculum will be delivered in a format that minimizes technician time away from work each week. Not only is the coursework designed with local businesses in mind, it will also create the basis for a new one-year technical program on the Red Wing campus.

“This is a huge opportunity for Red Wing to have the program right here, so companies don’t have to send their people long distances for training,” Hardyman said. “These students will be our future workforce.”

Hardyman said the college strives to be responsive to the needs of the area communities it serves, and this program is being developed in response to local needs.

“The strong relationship between Minnesota State College Southeast and our business partners in Red Wing, Lake City, and Cannon Falls will help provide the skilled workers they need, plus help the college add a much-needed advanced technology program that will continue to serve the area after the grant is complete," said Larry Lundblad, MSCSE interim president

For more information, contact Katie Hardyman at khardyman@southeastmn.edu or 651-267-7706.