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Training center a worthy pursuit

Educators say hard work of starting technical center will pay rewards

Jill Schramm/MDN Cooper Vols, uses a torch in the auto collision lab at Minot High School Oct. 17 as Griffin Lemar prepares for hammering

Educators in the field of career and technical education say a post-secondary training center is a worthy pursuit for Minot.

The economic benefits of a technical center go beyond the production of a skilled workforce, said Paul Gunderson, who has a long history in technical education training. He recently retired as program director for the precision ag training program at Lake Region State College in Devils Lake.

The impact from students and educators occupying housing and circulating wages and other money through the community can’t be overlooked, Gunderson said. Gunderson and other state technical educators say Minot can expect to see an increase in demand for housing and child care if it is successful in starting a technical center. They advise planning for those needs as well as planning for the particulars of a center.

Gunderson said faculty and staff who provide technical training can have significant impact on those communities even outside their programs. Often they have a high level of dedication to their communities and are active volunteers with valuable skill sets, he said.

An added benefit that comes with the start-up of a technical center is the greater cohesiveness that occurs in a community’s economic development groups as a result of having to come together to advance a project, Gunderson said.

“Activities of this kind bring a surge in cooperative endeavors that can be extraordinarily helpful and may spin off other entrepreneurial ideas,” he said.

Because North Dakota never has measured the impact of technical training in the state, there is no hard evidence showing how businesses and the economy could be affected. However, in Washington state, where a study was done, every dollar spent on career and technical education netted a $9 gain through productivity, wages and business income.

Anecdotally, Devils Lake, with an auto mechanics program at Lake Region, doesn’t have the shortage of auto mechanics as communities without that training have, said Rick Ross, executive director of the N.D. Association for Career and Technical Education, Valley City. Fargo, which has had great success with offering certified nursing assistant training in the high schools, doesn’t have the CNA shortage that many communities experience, he added.

When it comes to post-secondary technical education, there is a void from Williston to Bottineau and Devils Lake, Ross said. The feasibility of filling that void depends on the programs to be offered, he said.

“To say it’s easy, it’s not. Career and technical programs typically are expensive. The equipment is not cheap and to get the expertise and the people to teach is not always the easiest. It can be very difficult to find a welding instructor, for instance,” he said.

Once on solid footing, though, programs tend to do well.

“The students tend to gravitate to those programs,” Ross said.

Of about 14,000 open jobs in North Dakota, around 10,000 are jobs that require some skills training, Ross said.

There are fields where more training is needed in the state to fill those jobs, he said. North Dakota State College of Science turns away applicants to its dental hygiene program for lack of space. Other allied health career programs fall short of meeting the demand for graduates.

Diesel mechanics at NDSCS has turned people away in the past, although some of that demand now can be met in Williston, which recently started a program, Ross said. He said welding and commercial drivers license programs are other career courses in great demand by students.

One program the state lacks, Ross said, is training for heavy equipment operators. It can be a difficult program to provide because of the need to have access to heavy equipment and at least 40 acres of land.

In Mandan, International Union of Operating Engineers 49 is planning to build a facility next year that would provide training in heavy equipment operation. The closest training facility is in Hinckley, Minn., north of Minneapolis, which trains several thousand workers a year in a program that’s high quality but distant for many.

“It works, but not good enough,” said Darrell Miller, business agent for IUOP 49. “So we are going to build. We bought land here in Mandan. We are in the process of getting the building design put together. We are probably going to start on the building here come springtime.”

The hope is to finish by November or December 2017.

If Minot wants a training center, Gunderson said, the place to start is with industry leaders and economic development groups because at the end of every training program, a job needs to exist.

“So the support at the onset of business and industry as well as the public sector is absolutely critical,” he said. “Without that level of support, they just don’t survive.”

The precision ag program he helped develop attracted 22 private sector partners and brought in funding of about $4 million, primarily from federal and state sources. The business sector provided about $3 million in in-kind resources

The direct involvement of the existing education system in the region, both academic and technical, is another critical element, Gunderson said. Having the opportunity to cooperate with a university that can provide academic courses to augment the technical training is a great advantage, he said. Lake Region utilized that blending of educational courses to add value to its technical offerings with great success.

“In terms of problem solving and functioning creatively when facing issues that are mystifying them, when they face those kinds of issues, having taken that kind of coursework enables them to think in a more creative manner,” Gunderson said.

Secondary technical education programs through Minot High School and Quentin Burdick Job Corps Center need to be part of the discussion in Minot as well.

Lyn Dockter-Pinnick, director at Quentin Burdick Job Corps Center in Minot, said a post-secondary center would offer a chance for Job Corps students to go on to obtain additional training or complement existing course offerings. Job Corps currently offers courses in automotive, carpentry, welding, culinary skills, office administration, nursing and building maintenance.

Linn Dawson, business liaison with the Burdick Center, said Job Corps urges all its graduates to further their education.

“Our number one goal is higher education for all of our students,” she said. Job Corps currently has a relationship with Minot State University that enables students to take classes there.

Pam Stroklund, Career and Technical Education director at Magic City Campus, said most students who complete CTE courses at Minot High School wish to go on to post-secondary training. In seeking post-secondary technical training, they often end up going out of the area.

“They have so many job offers that they don’t normally come back to Minot,” Stroklund said. “We see that in a lot of different areas.”

Medical careers has been one exception because of the nursing training available locally, but students who want dental careers or other medical positions must go elsewhere. Medical career introduction at the high school includes everything from veterinary science to dentistry.

“Our Medical Careers has just exploded,” Stroklund said, citing growth from 80 students to 315 students in two years.

The Northwest Technical Center at Magic City Campus offers courses from computer technology to welding and more recently added aviation. Having business partners for those programs has been critical, Stroklund said. Those partners have provided guest speakers, internships and, in some cases, funding. They also help keep the center on the cutting edge of what’s happening in their industries.

Stroklund also takes a community perspective when looking at the need for technical training in Minot. Ward County’s demographic profile shows 57 percent of residents have only a high school degree or some college. Life happened and they didn’t get the education that might make a difference for them, Stroklund said. But that education can still happen if opportunities are available locally, she said.

Gunderson stressed the importance of persistence and dedication if Minot is serious about acquiring a training center.

“These kinds of activities take a lot of effort. It takes time. It takes, obviously, commitment from community-based leadership. It does take resources in terms of individuals who are willing to commit time and expertise,” he said.

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