The United States has been experiencing a “skills gap.”

In the first quarter of 2017, the National Federation of Independent Business found that 45 percent of small businesses couldn’t find qualified applicants for job openings. Rural regions are particularly challenged by a mismatch of worker skills and employer needs.

The problem is compounded by the fact that young people tend to move away to urban areas to seek education and opportunities.

A few years ago, Lisa Drafall noticed the Redwood Falls area was suffering from “brain drain.” 

Drafall decided to take action by organizing a regional career expo.

Drafall serves as general manager of the Redwood Gazette, which plays a major role in providing recruitment solutions for southern Minnesota.

“It began when I noticed that, with really low unemployment, most businesses were having a hard time recruiting,” said Drafall. “Unfortunately, the future workforce (students) didn’t seem to fully grasp that there is a wealth of opportunity available right here in our area.”

For the first two years, the career expo was held at the Redwood Area Community Center in Redwood Falls with Redwood Valley High School as its host. This year, the career expo will be held April 25 at the Renville Community Center.

Renville County West and the Renville Economic Development Authority are helping bring the event to town.

Michelle Mortensen, superintendent of Renville County West, is pleased to be involved. “We look forward to growing this expo for future years,” she said.

At the event, business leaders present practical information about various career paths and jobs that are available. Students get a real world glimpse into jobs they may not have known existed. They also have a unique opportunity to ask employers questions.

“We are excited that our students get to participate in this wonderful experience,” said Mortensen. “We offer our students multiple opportunities to explore colleges, careers,and trades, and this expo will support our World’s Best Workforce plan for the children of the future.”

A range of career clusters and pathways will be represented at the expo. Students can learn about fields such as business, human services, engineering, health science, agriculture, visual arts, information technology and more.

Since students are the workforce of the future, proactively connecting them with local businesses can help the area’s long-term economic outlook.

“If this does not happen, our current economy will become unsustainable because we simply will not have the population to support it,” Drafall said.

Drafall expects 150-200 students to attend.

For more information visit www.smncareers.com.