UpSkillingND helps close worker skills gap

Project helps close workforce skills gap

Submitted Photo UpSkillingND student Kord Nolte participates in the online curriculum via LinkedIn Learning courses.

Free training is available to North Dakotans looking to brush up on their workplace skills and go after some of the more than 17,000 open job positions in the state.

UpSkillingND is taking applications from Minot-area residents and other North Dakotans until Friday for 40 participant slots in its virtual training sessions that begin Monday. Participants work at their own paces through the curriculum, with group meetings, one-on-one meetings with program staff and customized, opt-in workshops with industry experts and volunteer mentors. Students earn credentials that document their training and boost their competitiveness in the market.

UpSkillingND’s customer service and sales modules are most popular, but students can choose from 10 in-demand job paths. Some other free modules include project management, digital marketing, data analysis and software development.

Prospective students can sign up at ndscs.edu/UpSkillingND.

The UpSkillingND modules are designed for individuals looking to develop skills to enter the workforce or who already are in the workforce and would like to improve their skills.

“It’s those who maybe want an edge up,” said Taya Spelhaug, Microsoft North Dakota TechSpark manager.

Spelhaug said Microsoft had launched a skills training initiative in June 2020 at opportunity.linkedin.com, allowing anyone in the world to take self-paced classes in 10 in-demand job paths. From that program, UpSkillingND was developed, with the North Dakota State College of Science and the state’s TrainND as project managers. Microsoft and the state have provided financial support to the project.

Spelhaug said thanks goes to state legislators who saw the value in creating and funding the program, making participation available at no charge to North Dakotans.

“These students are making an investment in themselves that doesn’t cost any money. It’s a time investment. When students start thinking about it that way, it’s pretty cool, because then when they’re done, they’re just like, ‘Wow, I did this for me,’ or ‘I did this for my family,’ and it’s just really fun to hear them talk about that,” she said.

Unlike Microsoft’s student-centered initiative, UpSkillingND adds group discussions and interactions with coaches to encourage learning.

“We wanted people to feel a part of a community. We wanted them to feel like they’re not alone,” Spelhaug said.

As a coach, Gracia Sanchez-Dekarske of Fargo said she is there for students who hit trouble spots, although the program is designed to promote success.

“It’s not so difficult. But you are learning. You are applying yourself. It’s nothing to take for granted,” Sanchez-Dekarske said. “People should be prepared to motivate themselves. It’s definitely a great tool for that self-motivator. So if you’re that driven type of person, you will fly high.”

Sanchez-Dekarske has completed modules herself.

“I was amazed,” she said. “The training was very easy to comprehend, to understand, to stay engaged. The speakers on the videos — very intelligent, very engaging, impactful. The training itself — technical, for technical skill sets, and also reminds us to polish the basic foundations.”

Sanchez-Dekarske, an Army National Guard and Reserve veteran, said she gained new and refreshed skills from taking modules such as customer service and project management and has been able to apply them in her current job as executive personal assistant to the facility director at the Veterans Administration hospital in Fargo.

“It’s encouraged me to seek out even further goals — to work for myself, to be independent and to be able to sustain and support myself, because that’s a big leap,” she said. “I feel like with this training, that’s given me the skillset to move forward on that.”

Spelhaug, who serves on the Workforce Development Council of North Dakota, said closing the skills gap has been a state focus in the past three years. People are available to work but they may not have the training or employers aren’t able to verify they have the right skills, she said. The credentialing through UpSkillingND address that.

“When the students go through this program, they set up a LinkedIn profile,” Spelhaug said of the online networking site. “Every time they go through a module, it will post a certificate on their LinkedIn page.”

The courses add to students’ technology skills, too. Spelhaug said some students have entered the course with no more technology knowledge than having an email address, but through mentoring, they expand their online capabilities, including managing social media sites such as LinkedIn.

Spelhaug also noted more employers are conducting online job interviews using virtual platforms, and the modules help students become familiar with that environment. Some students have commented they feel more comfortable working in today’s technological era since completing the courses, she said.

The course doesn’t require an extensive technology setup on the student’s end, though. Spelhaug said a student could complete the course just working from a smartphone.

There have been six previous class cohorts, and the session beginning next week is the final in the current funding round. So far, about 100 students have come through the program. Although a small dent in the 17,000 open positions, that’s 100 positions filled because individuals gained confidence to seek out jobs or to better themselves in the workplace, Spelhaug said.

“It’s been pretty interesting to see the range of students and the success that they’ve had,” Spelhaug said. “If we can just help some people to be successful and gain these jobs, it’s definitely worth it.”


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