Minnesota’s employers and our higher education and workforce training systems are suffering from a serious disconnect.
Our college graduates shoulder the fourth largest student-debt in the nation, yet many struggle to find jobs or even finish their degrees. Employers complain about a lack of qualified workers, despite an 11 percent unemployment rate among the state’s 16- to 24-year-olds. The new PIPELINE initiative, created by the 2014 Minnesota Legislature and championed by state Sen. Terri Bonoff, aims to fix this disconnect. PIPELINE supports the initiatives Growth & Justice has established for successful skills training, and has the potential to change the way Minnesota approaches higher education. The project (acronym stands for “Private Investment, Public Education, Labor Industry Experience,”) is designed to work with private industry councils to create new, debt-free career paths for students that lead directly to employment. Students enrolled in the program would emerge with both a career and a job.
PIPELINE builds on successful European apprenticeship models to provide students with direct entry into the job market based on need. In particular, the project shares strong similarities with Germany’s system of “dual education.” German law requires private industry to provide apprenticeships, which combine education and vocational training. Students apply for apprenticeships that interest them, and employers select students to fill positions they have open. This method fills needs in the economy as soon as they arise, and provides students with free education and training, healthcare, and a livable wage. Graduates of America’s current occupational training programs struggle to maintain even just one of these, yet Germany has managed to provide its students with all three. We think a successful PIPELINE program can help Minnesota lead the way on achieving these goals. Alternate career pathway programs such as PIPELINE could be crucial to closing the skills gap, as our recent “Skills Training: Here, There, Everywhere” policy report demonstrates.
Currently, groups representing Advanced Manufacturing, Agriculture, Healthcare Services and Information Technology have begun to develop competency standards for students in the PIPELINE program. Intense collaboration with industry experts will be instrumental in creating graduates that possess the exact skills employers need. Results of these industry council meetings will be presented to the 2015 legislature, which will then approve official PIPELINE standards.
We hope racial equity considerations play an ever stronger role in the development of those standards. As the baby boomer population retires, Minnesota must rely on the state’s increasingly diverse population to fill its jobs. People of color are the fastest growing segment of the state’s population, but lag far behind their white counterparts in degree attainment and employment. In order to ensure even and equitable growth, alternate career pathways must be established to accommodate the needs of a diverse and nontraditional student body. Establishing multiple entry points (not just through high school) and increased support services are two strategies PIPELINE can use to support its students during their path to a graduation. Increasing educational and job placement opportunities for people of color will help reduce the racial inequalities that have plagued our economy and that are embarrassing our state.