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Franken bill links skills to new jobs

Big DL welcome: Sen. Franken with Mayor Matt Brenk. BRIAN BASHAM/DL NEWSPAPERS

U.S. Senator Al Franken toured Detroit Lakes Thursday with Mayor Matt Brenk and other city officials.

After visiting the Detroit Lakes Municipal Airport and Veterans Park, as well as viewing local infrastructure and affordable housing developments, Franken met with local education and business officials, community leaders and students at Minnesota State Community & Technical College.

The chief purpose of Franken’s visit was to promote his new legislation, the Community College to Career Fund Act, which aims to connect skilled workers with available jobs, in part through partnerships between local technical and community colleges and area business and industry to offer needed training in specific skill areas.

Several times that afternoon, Franken made reference to the “skills gap” that currently exists in certain technical industries, where businesses nationwide have 3.5 million jobs available, but there are no workers trained in even the basic skills needed to fill them.

“There are 3.5 million jobs in this country waiting to be filled,” Franken said — yet national unemployment rates still hover at above 7 percent.

What Franken hopes to do with his proposed bill is to set up a competitive grant program where businesses and technical colleges would partner together to compete for funding that would, if approved, provide opportunities for workers to get the basic skills training needed to fill these high-demand jobs.

Competition for the grants would be based on the number of jobs that could be provided, what type of wages these jobs would offer, how much “skin” local industry has invested in the program, and so on.

Franken was particularly interested in getting a look at the new mobile welding instruction trailer that is currently being hosted by M State’s Detroit Lakes campus.

With no welding courses currently being taught at the college, M State officials decided instead to build a 12-station trailer that could travel to various sites where training was needed.

As M State President Peggy Kennedy pointed out during Sen. Franken’s tour of the trailer, the project is really an “incubator program” that could be expanded if the demand is shown to be there.

A lack of experienced welders in the area led to creation of the program — which Franken said ties in well with his proposed legislation.

He noted after Thursday’s meeting at M State that he feels the bill has a good chance of being passed, because its aims are similar to measures that have been proposed by President Barack Obama for creating more jobs.

“He’s (Obama) focused on jobs, I’m focused on jobs,” Franken said. “There are 3.5 million jobs available right now — we just have to skill people up to provide the workforce.”

Franken also noted that after his tour, he thinks there are several ways that his office can assist the city with its development efforts — particularly with barriers city officials have faced in trying to move forward with expansion of the runway at the municipal airport, which they say is much needed.

Overall, Franken said, he was impressed with Detroit Lakes during the brief tour he received.

“It’s a beautiful town,” he said, mentioning the new downtown business development, municipal airport, affordable housing and a few other sights he had seen as highlights of the trip.

“It seems like this town is happening,” he added with a smile.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454