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Photo by Hannah Davis

Gov. Tim Walz hosted a roundtable discussion at Forest Lake-based manufacturing company Teamvantage about the importance of student training, specifically in the critical-need technical career fields, such as manufacturing. Walz then took a brief tour of Teamvantage.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz visited Teamvantage in Forest Lake on Wednesday, Jan. 22, to announce 17 new youth skills training grants awarded across the state, one of which was awarded to the Forest Lake Area School District.

Forest Lake Area Schools will receive nearly $90,000 from the grant for a period of two years, which is given by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry to develop and implement paid learning opportunities for upper-grade students. This is the second such grant the school has received, with the first awarded in 2019 for the current and next school year for $100,000. The new grant will begin July 1, 2020 and will last through June 30, 2022, with a focus on helping the district develop curriculum and opportunities for students wanting to focus on automotive and health care careers.

“We doubled the funding for this program last year because it’s working. You’re showing it’s working; it’s a good use of taxpayer dollars,” Walz said.

Walz and area leaders in student training attended a roundtable meeting at local manufacturer Teamvantage to discuss the needs and successes of student work-based learning programs. The discussion centered around critical areas of staffing needs in manufacturing, how partnerships between area school districts and local businesses help facilitate learning for students interested in those fields, and how those partnerships can help fill the gap of the lack of workers for the technical trades.

Forest Lake Area Schools was one of 25 local partnerships throughout the state that applied for this third round of grants, which included partnerships between more than 75 school districts and 130 employers in five industries. For Forest Lake Area Schools, the grant will go toward students and staff in the career and technical skills department, including work-based learning experiences for students and the development of curriculum.

“In our case, we had a great foundation to build from because we had a number of career and technical education courses already being offered,” FLAS Career & Technical Education Coordinator Mike Miron said. “But we knew we needed a capstone experience for students who were really driven in those areas.”

Miron said the YST grant helped the district bring in updated equipment for students to utilize and develop capstone courses for those students, sometimes in partnerships with area businesses.

“I think it’s a very good investment for any business that’s looking towards the future, getting young people interested and bringing them in through the front door and getting them started at the beginning so they can learn and [potentially be someone] who takes my job someday,” Teamvantage COO Lester Jones commented. “Programs that help facilitate the relationships between the schools and businesses [are] a wonderful thing.”

Walz discussed a mindset from years past that looked down upon the trades and emphasized that every student should attend a four-year school.

“It’s not the either/or. We need psychologists, but it’s not as if one is more noble than the other,” Walz said, later adding, “It’s irresponsible to saddle students with debt in a career that they’re not going to work or it’s not really right for them.”

Molly Bonnet, college and career coordinator for the high school, said she’s heard from past students who felt such a pressure to only go into a four-year school, even though they didn’t believe it was the path for them.

“Now our students are very proudly declaring when they’re going into a union trade or when they’re going with some other career,” Bonnet said.

Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry Deputy Commissioner Roslyn Robertson said, “The feedback we get from the participants, be it the students, employers, schools, or community-based organization, is this [kind of program] is what is needed right now.”

Hannah Davis is the Area Editor at the Forest Lake Times. You can contact her at hannah.davis@ecm-inc.com or (763)233-0709

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