Anoka Chamber is the first to obtain a state vocational training grant to help employers find workers

Employers in Anoka County looking to hire skilled workers or train employees they already have are getting a huge helping hand from the Anoka Region Chamber of Commerce, which is said to be the first chamber to receive a government subsidy to help businesses meet their labor needs.

Generally, employers should apply for Minnesota Dual-Training Pipeline grants from the Minnesota Office of Higher Education and the Department of Labor and Industry. But this summer, the Anoka region chamber took steps for employers who do not always have the time or the know-how to apply for the subsidy.

“We have removed any barriers that would be in place for employers who are not prepared for this,” said John LeTourneau, director of manufacturing for the chamber. “This has never been done before. The intention is to become a partner of the community.”

The chamber received around $ 120,000 and is using the grant to help around nine employers send workers to Anoka Technical College to take courses in everything from intro to machines to reading blueprints to theory. machine tools. The purpose of the grant is to enable employees to obtain a wide variety of industry-recognized degrees, certificates and credentials that will help them enhance their skills and advance their careers, said LeTourneau.

Twice a week, Simon Smith leaves his job at Kurt Manufacturing in Fridley and goes to class. The 23-year-old Circle Pines machinist said going back to school after a few years away was a little intimidating at first, but the prospect of learning new skills and getting a certificate convinced him to go there. ‘idea.

“I’m learning to operate machines and new technologies that I can apply here,” he said. “I am excited to bring back skills and to be a mentor.”

Smith earns his salary while taking classes, which will run until May.

Kurt, which manufactures machine parts and metal components and products for various industries, has applied for and received dual training pipeline grants in the past, but has partnered with the chamber to raise money this year.

New hires at the company who joined the learning-as-learning program included former managers of quick-service restaurants and liquor stores who wanted to learn and current employees who had skills. good attitudes.

“The job market is crazy and it’s hard to find people,” said Taylor Erickson, who works in Kurt’s human resources department. “If they wanted to learn, we hired them.”

Grant funds can be used to cover interns’ tuition, fees and required materials. Kurt has four employees who are taking courses this year.

“I started out in this business while attending a tech school,” said Tim Nelson, director of Kurt’s machining division. “We still need qualified and trained machinists. Employees requested additional training to get the next level of salary or experience. It was a great opportunity.”

Nelson said the education will enable employees to understand the hows and whys of using multi-million dollar machines: “The things we don’t always have time to explain.”

This year, more than $ 2.2 million in dual training grants were awarded to employers in Minnesota. The grants will support 35 employers statewide in advanced manufacturing, 29 in health care and three in information technology.

LeTourneau said the chamber, which is one of the oldest in the state, said part of its mission is to support local manufacturing. Through the grant, the chamber can help employers find workers with the skills they need and give workers the opportunity to develop skills to advance their careers and wages or access employment without racking up heavy debt. studies.

“We are very excited about this,” he said. “This translates into a healthier community.”

For workers, LeTourneau said, grant funding will provide the opportunity to buy homes, start a family and shop where they already live.

“This is an incredible opportunity for the employees and our company,” said Erickson. “It’s so precious.”

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768

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