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Minn. manufacturers face hiring woes

Eric Fisher of AGCO, left, and Tom Wosepka of Douglas Machine talk to other Minnesota manufacturers Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, about how they deal with finding workers. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – Minnesota manufacturers say they are doing well but face twin roadblocks of finding qualified workers and dealing with government-caused uncertainties.

“As much as we have tremendous pride in Minnesota ... we cannot be complacent,” said Scott Peterson, Schwan Food Co. executive vice president, telling 175 manufacturing officials they can take actions to help solve at least one of the issues: hiring workers.

Many attending Minnesota Manufactures’ Summit said that is one of their biggest concerns.

Peterson, who worked in manufacturing while growing up in Duluth, said that half of Minnesota youths do not realize that better education can improve their employment opportunities. He and others said manufacturers must begin telling high school students that they do not need a four-year degree to land a good career.

“Businesses have to step up and get involved in the high school level to steer people to get involved in the trades,” said Eric Fisher, operations director for the AGCO farm equipment plant in Jackson.

The message spread at the summit was that Minnesota youths need to understand that some receiving four-year degrees may not finds good jobs, while those trained as welders, machinists and other trade positions probably will land good jobs.

While couples with children may like Alexandria and other greater Minnesota areas, he said, young, single people may opt for places such as the Twin Cities and western North Dakota’s Oil Patch where pay could be much higher.

In southwest Minnesota, where most of AGCO’s 1,300 employees live, the rural area just does not provide enough employees.

Fisher said AGCO, which makes tractors and other farm equipment, is hindered by lack of highly skilled workers such has welders. AGCO has brought in out-of-state businesses to provide workers for such positions, he said, but it would rather have its own employees.

Among AGCO’s solution to the worker shortage is to help develop housing in the area.

Part of the answer to employment problems involves keeping employees instead of hiring replacements.

“We want to promote from within,” Hutchinson Manufacturing President Tom Daggett said.

“We have a lot of respect and a lot of involvement with our workforce,” Daggett said. “We want to create a career path for individuals; we don’t just want to create jobs.”

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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