MARSHALL - Nearly 50 agriculture/agribusiness representatives, employers, educators and students from around the area came together Thursday morning at the Research and Development Building at the Schwan Food Co. to discuss industry workforce needs in southwest Minnesota.
"This is exciting," said Dennis Schroeder, Marshall Area Farm Business Management instructor. "We've got businesses and educators getting together, evaluating what the needs are. Like our FBM program, it's the farmer's needs that are there. We have the implement dealers in the area and other businesses here saying this is what is needed, so it's a good conduit for us, to share information and move forward."
Marshall is the fourth of seven scheduled locations across the state to hold workforce need meetings. The statewide assessments are sponsored by Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU), Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).
The MnSCU system, which includes 24 two-year colleges and seven state universities, is the largest single provider of higher education in Minnesota. The system operates 54 campuses in 47 communities, serving nearly 277,000 students in credit-based courses and producing approximately 34,700 graduates each year.
"Agriculture is very important to Minnesota," Schroeder said. "Identifying the needs and then providing education to fulfill those needs is what we're all about."
The data compiled from each of the sessions will be used by MnSCU to align its educational certificates and degrees, worker training and customized training programs with the identified needs of businesses, industries and communities throughout Minnesota.
"There are (representatives from) two-year colleges, four-year colleges and employers here, as well as our partners from DEED and Jennifer Byers, who is the vice-president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce," said Mark Kluender, director for the Center for Business and Industry at South Central College in Mankato. "It's a big partnership with MnSCU to bring everyone together."
The primary agricultural areas of discussion on Thursday included farm business operation and management, agricultural mechanics and equipment, animal science, plant and soil science and food science and technology.
"MnSCU is the main developer of the project, so they want to look at the state of Minnesota and meet the needs of all of the agricultural areas," Schroeder said. "After identifying those needs, it's about working towards meeting those needs as educators."
Cameron Macht, regional analyst for DEED, walked the attendees through a supply and demand presentation that included previous trend data compiled from DEED. Using higher-education graduation rates from 2009-10, the information reflected whether or not there was an overage or shortage of qualified workers in each of the five agricultural areas. Data also revealed median wages and level of education likely needed for certain occupations.
To provide a more up-to-date assessment, those in attendance were asked to complete a supply and demand questionnaire. An open-format discussion followed.
"We ask about future employee needs and what the colleges and universities can do to better supply what their needs are," Kluender said. "We're just trying to match up."
Once surveys are completed at each of the state-wide locations, evaluations will take place and current results will be released, providing a foundation for the future in agriculture and agribusiness in Minnesota.
"Just like we evaluate the individual needs of the farmer (at FBM), they're looking beyond that to the business needs out there," Schroeder said. "Once you get that, then you can plan your future in providing quality education."