By Devinder Malhotra, chancellor of Minnesota State


All across the nation, legislators and employers alike are concerned about a shortage of qualified workers. In Minnesota, a number of factors are at play in this, including a decreasing pool of high school graduates, a shift in population from rural areas to the Twin Cities metro, and the retirement of the baby boom generation.

In southeastern Minnesota, the issue is even more critical with unemployment rates at historic lows, at 2 percent or even lower in some counties.

This was a topic of a recent workforce conversation held in Makerspace RW on the campus of Minnesota State College Southeast in November. It was the perfect setting for a discussion that provided perspectives from many sectors: education, health care, business, government, nonprofits, and manufacturing. I would like to thank MSC Southeast Interim President Larry Lundblad for his role in facilitating this important discussion.

At the roundtable discussion in Red Wing, I was especially pleased to see participation from so many strategic partners of Minnesota State College Southeast, including Red Wing Mayor Sean Dowse, Superintendent of Schools Karsten Anderson, Red Wing Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Patty Brown, and Sen. Mike Goggin.

As I reflect on the conversation, this much is clear: Minnesota State plays a critical role in solving the workforce shortage because our colleges and universities are engaging in two critical strategies: leveraging the strength that exists in the system and fostering strong partnerships with the K-12 sector, business, and industry.

Our state colleges and universities work with each other to serve student and workforce needs in a number of ways: Collaborative campus and regional planning enhances access to educational opportunities and reduces costs to students and taxpayers. We are pooling our portfolio of non-credit programs into regional enterprises that deliver continuing education, customized training, and consultative solutions to meet the needs of businesses and incumbent workers. By partnering on these initiatives, each Minnesota State college or university provides a door through which business and industry can access the strengths of all 37 colleges and universities across Minnesota.

Our partnerships with K-12 allow us to accomplish even more. We work with schools to offer Post-Secondary Enrollment Options that allow students to earn college credit while still in high school. We participate in a variety of outreach programs, such as Learn and Earn, a partnership led by Red Wing Ignite that connects Goodhue County high school students with training at Minnesota State College Southeast and employment in advanced manufacturing. In addition, we work with Adult Basic Education and community-based training organizations to help ensure students are ready for college-level work.

And finally, public/private partnerships are vital to our success.

For example, Workforce Development Scholarships are funded by the Legislature and supplemented by private contributions from business and industry partners. These innovative partnerships provide new scholarships for students enrolling in programs with high employer demand - such as advanced manufacturing, agriculture, health care, and information technology - making higher education even more affordable within these sectors.

In fall 2019, a new round of Workforce Development Scholarships will be available to Minnesota State College Southeast students starting an education in these high-demand career fields.

All of the partnerships showcased during our roundtable are important to the success of the Southeast Minnesota community, to our students' success, and to our success as a system of public higher education. Fundamental to the success of all is our ability to adapt to the disruption that is affecting all sectors of the economy, including higher education. Building our capacity to adapt and become more creative, innovative, entrepreneurial is a strategic priority for the colleges and universities of Minnesota State. States and communities that will thrive will continue these conversations and ensure opportunities for all.