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Summer Jobs Visit Owatonna

This week, we were excited to showcase our “Summer of Jobs” campaign at Owatonna to focus on high-demand careers, from manufacturing to computer engineering. Given historic labor shortages and an economy teeming with opportunity, our campaign has three main goals:

1. Showcase the thousands of amazing jobs available in Minnesota.

2. Amplify the many sources of labor that employers often overlook.

3. Highlight innovation and best practices in workforce development of companies, job seekers and communities.

Labor discussion with local leaders and businesses

We were delighted to have Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan join us for our business roundtable in Owatonna. Like everywhere else, Owatonna is experiencing record unemployment and a need for talent pipelines to fill available jobs. When we asked business leaders what their barriers were, they said bringing people in and ensuring they were trained were among their top workforce challenges. Two manufacturers mentioned that retirements have played a big role in recent turnover, so they have become more flexible by offering part-time work so those who have retired can return to work at their own pace.

In an effort to get more high school students interested in manufacturing careers, Wenger Manufacturing has offered more tours for students and their parents so they can dispel any misconceptions they may have and introduce the many career opportunities offered in their institution. Superintendent Jeff Elstad of Owatonna Public Schools mentioned that they like their students leaving high school with a higher degree – in that they make sure students have skills and certifications that can be used immediately after graduation.

Glass maker Viracon has done a lot of great work attracting more underrepresented labor populations to their jobs. They have hired formerly incarcerated second chance community workers for many years, and now there is no potential stigma because it has been so integrated into their hiring practices. They have also provided housing for Muslim workers who need prayer rooms so that everyone can be comfortable and feel culturally respected at work.

Despite all these efforts, Viracon and other local businesses are still seeing hiring issues when it comes to childcare and housing. We know the impact child care and housing have on where someone works or their ability to work. The Governor’s Council on Economic Expansion recently released its roadmap which includes a commitment to support families and workers by improving the quality and accessibility of affordable child care as well as modernizing policies to build more affordable, high-quality housing. These issues cannot be solved overnight, but by working together, we know we can achieve a more equitable, inclusive, sustainable and resilient Minnesota economy.

Job Shadow at Federated Insurance

Today for our job shadowing, I met with Jason, a system architect at Federated Insurance in downtown Owatonna. System architects design, configure, operate and maintain computer networks and systems. System architects consider a company’s business goals as well as its size, budget, and resources to determine the kind of computing power it needs. They also consider how much data storage the business needs, how big and fast it needs, and the best user experience a business wants to create for its employees.

Jason got his start in IT working for Federated Insurance and was instrumental in preparing the company’s IT systems for the infamous Y2K bug around the turn of the century. His more than twenty years with Federated is a testament to their ability to retain employees for the long term. While at Federated, Jason enrolled in their training program so he would continue to add certifications and grow professionally while working for their company.

Walking tour of downtown Owatonna

After the job shadowing, we took a walking tour of downtown Owatonna to see a recently completed redevelopment effort that consists of a new hotel, apartment complex, and streetscape project. Owatonna is very fortunate to have a number of businesses that have been around for over 100 years. Costas Candies is one such company, and of course we had to stop by to check out some of their delicious chocolates! Having businesses like Federated Insurance located downtown helps support nearby local businesses like Costas Candies – and being surrounded by great downtown amenities is a useful recruiting tool for Federated Insurance. It’s a win-win for everyone at Owatonna!

These Summer of Jobs tour stops, job matches, and insightful conversations with local leaders are key to helping DEED better understand what employers and job seekers need right now. For another look at our visit to Owatonna, watch our video on the DEED YouTube page.

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