At last week’s Yellow Medicine County Board meeting Carrie Bendix, the Executive Director of the Southwest Minnesota Private Industry Council, gave a presentation to the Board. Bendix started by discussing the Workforce and Opportunity Act (WIOA). WIOA is a public law that was introduced in 2013 and replaced the previous Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA) as the primary federal workforce development legislation to bring about increased coordination among federal workforce development and related programs.

Under WIOA, the public workforce investment system provides the framework for delivery of employment and training activities and business services at local levels. Job seekers, dislocated workers, youth, incumbent workers, new entrants to the workforce, veterans, persons with disabilities, and employer access many of the services that are offered under this system. Bendix went on to describe the three “Hallmarks of Excellence” for the WIOA.

The first hallmark is that the needs of businesses and workers drive workforce solutions and local boards are accountable to the communities in which they are located. The second hallmark is One-Stop Centers (American Job Centers/ WorkForce Centers) that provide excellent customer service to jobseekers and employers and focus on continuous improvement. The One-Stop Centers are currently going through a rebranding from WorkForce centers to CareerForce. The One-Stop centers in this region are located in Marshall, Montevideo, and Worthington. The third hallmark is that the workforce system supports strong regional economies and plays an active role in community and workforce development. Bendix explained the Southwest Minnesota Regional Workforce Development Plan. Under the WIOA each Workforce Development Area must submit a Workforce Development Plan to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).

The Governor also submits a State Plan to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor that outlines a four-year strategy for the states workforce development system. Local Workforce Development Area #6 is made up of 14 counties in Southwest Minnesota, including Big Stone, Chippewa, Cottonwood, Jackson, Lac qui Parle, Lincoln, Lyon, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone, Redwood, Rock, Swift, and Yellow Medicine Counties. It also encompasses two economic development regions, #6W and 8.

Bendix discussed the four major goals of the plan, and explained some of the strategies they plan to use to reach those goals. The first goal of the plan is to reduce educational, skills training and employment disparities based on race, disability, disconnected youth or gender to provide greater opportunities for all Minnesotans. Population changes are an issue that was highlighted. Both of Southwest Minnesota’s Economic Development Regions saw a population decline from 2000 to 2016. In comparison, the state of Minnesota saw a 12.2% population gain during the same period. Just two counties in this region, Nobles County and Lyon County saw population growth.

This population growth was a result of growing numbers of immigrants and communities of color moving to the area. The number of African-American residents and people of Hispanic or Latino origin more than doubled in the past 15 years. Southwest Minnesota has a higher share of Hispanic or Latino residents than the state, and the highest share of any of the six planning regions. Nobles County has the highest percentage of Hispanic or Latino residents in the state (26.1%) and Worthington is the third most diverse city in the state according to the 2017 DEED Regional Profile.

Strategies to help reach the first goal include conducting focus groups and targeted outreach to underserved populations for career pathway training programs and career services. Increase the representation of underserved populations on the Workforce Development board, committees and staff. Other strategies for the first goal include developing and implementing strategies to increase awareness of the benefits of hiring targeted populations, and engaging the workforce development board, staff, partners and employers in training/professional development opportunities on diversity and cultural competency/responsiveness.

The second goal of the plan is to build employer-led industry sector partnerships that expand the talent pipeline to be inclusive of gender, race and disability to meet industry demands for a skilled workforce. Strategies to reach this goal include convening health care and manufacturing employer-led sector partnership meetings, and to identify workforce development issues and solutions. The plan also includes exploring a sector-based career pathway approach to addressing employer workforce and development needs. The third goal is to address the shortage of skilled workers through sector-based career pathway approaches in focusing on the four key industries including: Health Care, Manufacturing, Transportation and Construction/Trades.

The fourth goal is to increase high school student’s exposure to regional occupations in demand. Strategies include developing and marketing labor market infographics to students and parents, address the myth you need a four year degree to get a great job, and to expand partnerships with local school districts to increase career awareness and career counseling opportunities for students and parents. Additional strategies include developing and supporting work-based learning opportunities under the career pathways approach, which is internships, work experience, job shadow, employer guest speakers, industry tours, and apprenticeships. The plan will also aim to provide Career Navigator staff support for students and employers who are engaged in work based learning opportunities as part of a career technical education course and career academics.

Bendix talked about some of the progress that is already being made with youth and young adults. From july of 2017 to June of 2018 there were 366 individualized career advising services provided, 43 young adults were employed, 228 job shadows were conducted, 227 young adults had on the job training or work experience, 38 students participated in campus tours, 73 students participated in career pathways, and 258 young adults went on business tours.

Bendix went over the 2018 annual report and highlighted some more accomplishments. Overall the program provided 3,423 career services, employed 701 people, provided 292 adults with on the job training and engaged 3,534 students. Some other listed accomplishments for 2018 include customized career advertising for youth and adults, customized career exploration services for school districts, training and skill development in high demand occupations, career pathway programs, labor market infographics, and employer forums. Bendix finished by saying the main focus will be to highlight manufacturing, health care, and transportation jobs. She is hopeful that the program can continue to show younger adults and youth that there are a lot of good job opportunities in the area, and that most of them don’t require a four year degree.