Guest Column: MSC Southeast – Proud to partner with region’s manufacturers


by MSC - SE Interim President Dr. Larry Lundblad


October is Manufacturing and Technology Month, a time to recognize this important sector of the economy. Minnesota manufacturers add billions of dollars to the state in terms of goods produced, payroll, and tax revenues, and the Southeast region has one the highest concentrations of manufacturing in the state.

With campuses in Red Wing and Winona, Minnesota State College Southeast is proud to partner with the thriving industrial sector. Over 100 manufacturers are located in Winona. Likewise, Red Wing can point to an impressive number of manufacturers. These companies produce a broad array of products for national and international markets.

When you see a Gatorade towel at a sporting event, watch the industrial wench lower the ball in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, notice the Braille pads and buttons in an elevator, warm up in front of a gas fireplace, ride an electric bicycle, or purchase top-quality work boots, high-end skates, or a world-famous brand of vanilla (and the list of world-class products goes on and on, including industrial fasters and medical devices) — chances are that these products were made in Winona, Red Wing, or in the Southeast region.       

I’ve heard a common theme at many of the events occurring this month: the manufacturing sector is rapidly changing. Much of this change is attributed to reshoring, changes in the supply chain, and the digital transformation that is driving automation, expanding internet connectivity, and the emergence of artificial intelligence.

As a result, high-wage, high-skill jobs are being created that require new skills sets for both incoming employees and incumbent workers. A speaker that I heard recently said that the emerging new jobs in manufacturing are not “white collar” or “blue collar,” but “new collar.”

Technical and community colleges like Minnesota State College Southeast are responding to these changes. To be a vital partner, we must ensure that our programs are aligned with the emerging workplace and provide the training needed by our regional manufacturers.

One of our most important initiatives is the development of pathways to manufacturing (and other trades programs and transfer majors) that begin at the local high school. MSC Southeast is working with industry, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, workforce development boards, Chambers of Commerce, and secondary partners to create these pathways. High school juniors and seniors in our pathways are earning certificates that lead directly into the workplace or onward to a 2- or 4-year college degree.

Another important pathway program is the Winona Chamber REACH program, that continues to thrive despite the current pandemic. Juniors and seniors from Winona High School, Wabasha-Kellogg, and Lewiston are participating. Students earn a transferrable certificate through MSCS and gain valuable soft skills that align with “new collar” jobs.

New pathways leading to the manufacturing certificate are being replicated in four regional high schools, including Red Wing High school. A National Science Foundation grant is providing resources for curriculum development and equipment. Local manufacturers are excited about this opportunity for local students and are providing additional funding.   

This year, we worked with representatives from business, industry, workforce centers, and 22 partner secondary schools to develop a joint proposal for Perkins funding, a federal grant supporting career and technical programs. I am happy to report that the proposal was funded! The school districts and the college are now working on achieving the grant goals, including creating pathways to manufacturing.

Here at MSC Southeast, we have been expanding long-standing relationships with the manufacturing sector to add new programming and upgrade existing offerings to align with workplace needs. Along with new curricula, equipment is being upgraded to prepare students for the emerging workplace.

Over the past two years, the business community has made a significant investment in the advanced manufacturing program to transform the learning spaces on our Winona campus. These donations have been leveraged, resulting in a number of state and federal grants that add more resources for curriculum development and equipment. In addition to college students in the degree program, 60+ industry technicians from eleven companies are in training this semester.

A similar initiative is underway on Red Wing campus, where a new mechatronics lab is being developed with local industry and community support. The new program will provide training for incumbent workers and, longer-term, a two-year degree in mechatronics.

In conclusion, we are proud of our regional manufacturers and the value add that they bring to the region and state. MSC Southeast is excited to partner with our regional high schools, Chambers, workforce development boards, and the industrial sector as we prepare current and future employees for exciting “new collar” careers in manufacturing.


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