College educators representing the eight Centers of Excellence in the Minnesota State Colleges system spoke at the workforce conference about programs available to students both in high school and as college courses. Above right is Keith Olander, of the Agriculture Center of Excellence, at Central Lakes College in Staples. Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities (CEO) students from Staples-Motley and Wadena-Deer Creek explained their program to regional educators at the “Building the 21st Century Workforce Conference” held at NJPA on Dec. 16. (Staples World photos by Mark Anderson)At the manufacturing cluster meeting, Pillager High School teachers Jordan Herman (left) and Kevin Votaw explain their Metier Program that helps students discover how and when they do their best work.

Educators explore workforce options

Automation may be a trend for the future of industry, but right now there are many jobs available that are going unfilled because there are not enough trained applicants.

Those were two of the topics at a conference at National Joint Powers Alliance (NJPA) in Staples on Dec. 16, called Building the 21st Century Workforce.

Event organizer Bart Graves, NJPA’s College and Career Readiness Consultant, said industries need workers and they aren’t getting a flow into the trained workforce.

“We need to find out what works, using data driven solutions, both for students and for businesses,” said Graves.

Graves said one of the goals is to provide students and displaced workers with more awareness of the jobs that are available in a two year training program or less. “There are great opportunities out there, we want to see what we can do about that,” he said.

One of the conference attendees was Staples-Motley teacher Tab Erickson, who teaches careers classes for eighth graders and juniors. “Devising a plan makes such a difference,” Erickson said. “We show the kids lists of occupations that they’ve never heard of, they need to choose which ones to follow.”

The conference’s keynote speaker was Kristi Westbrok of Consolidated Telecommunications in Brainerd, who spoke about automation in the workforce. For many of those attending, a striking outtake was an estimate that in seven years, John Deere will have fully automated equipment that can plant a field, spray, fertilize and harvest without any one riding the tractors.

Other presenters included the Staples-Motley and Wadena-Deer Creek CEO Program, Minnesota State Colleges Centers of Excellence, Bridges Academies and Tech Mobile.

Getting kids into the flow

For the afternoon session, the workforce conference broke up into groups to explore specific industry topics: health care, agriculture and energy, elementary programming, grades 6-12, business/IT and manufacturing/transportation/robotics.

Each group came up with suggestions for action items. Graves said NJPA will follow up with some of those ideas and explore them more at future career readiness meetings to follow up the ideas generated at the conference.

At the manufacturing cluster meeting, there’s a concensus that there are enough programs available to supply the workforce, the limiting factor is getting students interested in the various programs.

The educators said thattechnical skills are easy to teach, the tough part is teaching the “soft skills” such as emotional intelligence and simply showing up on time every day.

One suggestion was to help students learn about their personal skill sets and about their weaknesses. 

To help in that line of thinking, Pillager High School teachers Jordan Herman and Kevin Votaw explained the program they’re developing, called Metier, to help students find how they do their best work. 

The question they ask students is “How do you get into the flow?” 

The students look at what they’re doing when they feel the best and are performing their best. “It gives students an opportunity to study themselves,” said Herman.

They’ve also outlined the conditions that need to be met in order for the students to get into that “flow” of high performance.

Staples World

Mailing Address: P.O. Box 100 Staples, MN 56479 Telephone: (218) 894-1112 - Fax: (218) 894-3570 Toll Free: 1-888-894-1112 E Mail:

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