There has been a lot of commentary about the income gap and wealth gap in America.  If a goal in this country is to build an ownership society with a strong middle class, we need to promote in every shape, manner, and form a nation premised on achievement, a work ethic, and a strong education.
 
This paper, the second in a series, discusses career and technical education. 
 
(I realize these papers are long.  I strongly believe, though, that our fellow Minnesotans should receive more than simple emailed slogans asking for donations.  My purpose in holding elected office is to share opinions and ideas about improving Minnesota.  I enjoy and learn from your responses to my letters.) 
 
Career and Technical Education.   A clay brick is fragile; it shatters when it hits the ground. But a brick combined with other bricks creates an enduring structure that withstands the test of time.   Career and Technical Education (“CTE”) is an important brick in building an Ownership Society. 
 
Technology has changed the needs of industry, and our demographics have changed the needs of consumers.  According to the U.S. Department of Education, jobs relying on education and training from associate degrees will grow faster than any other training source in coming years.[1] 55 million jobs are expected to open by 2020, and many will require some college or a two-year degree.[2]  This means that people who have undertaken career or technical training can be positioned for success.  “Ready, Set, Go,” an amalgam of the Minnesota Department of Education, the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, and Minnesota State estimates that by 2020, at least 74% of all jobs in Minnesota will require some form of education beyond high school.[3] 
 
We are now in our eighth year of economic expansion, with the Minnesota economy adding at least 150,000 jobs over the past decade.[4]  Our unemployment hovers below 4%[5] and, as a share of our working age population, a higher ratio of Minnesotans is working than in any other state. 
 
These statistics present an opportunity for higher education institutions to partner with industry to produce a workforce skilled in CTE that receives higher median incomes. 
 
The Shortage of CTE Teachers.  The U.S. Department of Education reports that Minnesota has had a shortage of CTE teachers for over a decade.[6]
 
According to the Minnesota Career and Technical Educator Licensing Task Force, many factors contribute to this deficit.[7]  First, the nationwide attrition rate for teachers has been approximately 8% per year.  CTE teachers, who have skills and abilities in high demand, have a higher attrition rate as they leave the profession for higher paying jobs.  
 
In addition, according to the Task Force, the licensing requirements for a CTE teacher are more complex than a standard teaching license.[8]  Prior to legislative changes this year, the Minnesota Board of Teaching required that a CTE educator have a baccalaureate degree, just like other secondary educators, but also to meet the technical skill components of standard subject area licensure (described as Core Skills for Teachers of Career and Technical Education Standards).[9]  Unlike other secondary teaching assignments, CTE educators are required not only to teach courses but also to have continuing expertise on technical advances in industry. 
 
Lawmakers in 2011 and 2015 tried to address teacher licensure in a variety of areas, including CTE education.[10]  Commentators, including the Legislative Auditor, found that regulatory overlap and gaps still existed in mandates imposed by multiple regulatory agencies involved in teacher licensing.[11]  Legislation enacted this year created a Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board to address some of the previous contradictory mandates by the multiple agencies involved in teacher licensing.[12]
 
The Shortage of CTE Programs. There is also a shortage of CTE programs.  A CTE program, to be qualified for CTE revenue and federal Perkins grant subsidies, must meet standards, including:

  1. An advisory committee that includes business and industry representation.
  2. Teachers with CTE licensure that includes extensive ongoing professional development in CTE content areas.
  3. Program administration that demonstrates fiscal responsibility.
  4. Program assessment that includes the collection and reporting of CTE student and program data, follow up with CTE participants after graduation, and community input on program improvement.
  5. Program design that includes career development, curriculum alignment, dual credit enrollment opportunities, and student leadership organizations.
  6. Resources, which include financial records and maintenance records of CTE specific equipment.[13]

The Demand for CTE Jobs.  According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, CTE occupations are projected to increase the most of all occupations through 2024.  They include computer occupations (projected to increase by over 7,000 jobs, or 8.3%); healthcare practitioners and technical employees (projected to increase by over 20,100 jobs, or 12.3%); healthcare support (projected to increase by over 16,100 jobs, or 17.6%); personal care and service (projected to increase by over 21,800 jobs, or 13.8%); and construction (projected increase by over 8,700 jobs, or 7.7%).[14]
 
DEED also prepared a table of education requirements for each of these jobs:[15]
 

Occupation Typical Education Employees Salary Growth
Brick masons and block masons High School or Less 1,340 $66,292 16%
Roofers High School or Less 2,180 $56,313 9%
Electricians Vocational Training 11,240 $59,340 11%
Plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters Vocational Training 8,630 $66,646 8%
Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration
mechanics and installers
Vocational Training 2,790 $54,246 7%
Diagnostic medical sonographers Associate Degree 1,400 $76,219 19%
Registered nurses Associate Degree 59,640 $72,892 12%
Dental hygienists Associate Degree 4,620 $71,582 12%
Software developers/applications Bachelor’s Degree 12,950 $93,033 10%
Computer systems analysts Bachelor’s Degree 15,130 $89,908 18%
Biomedical engineers Bachelor’s Degree 1,100 $99,485 23%
Physician assistants Graduate or Professional Degree 2,010 $107,599 25%
Nurse practitioners Graduate or Professional Degree 3,290 $105,231 26%
Nurse anesthetists Graduate or Professional Degree 1,540 $177,074 14%

CTE Initiatives in Secondary and Higher Education.  The state and federal governments have undertaken numerous initiatives to coordinate the delivery of CTE. Agencies and programs that participate in these efforts include the U.S. Department of Education[16], the U.S. Department of Labor[17], the Minnesota Department of Education[18], Minnesota State (formerly called MnSCU)[19], the Minnesota Governor’s Office[20], the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development[21], the Minnesota Office of Higher Education[22], the Minnesota Workforce Development Board[23], the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry[24], the Minnesota Jobs Skills Partnership[25], individual school districts[26], the Minnesota Department of Revenue[27], Minnesota Pipeline[28],  and individual institutions.  In addition, many building trade unions have been extremely active and effective in training apprentices for the construction trades.[29]
 
Some of the programs are initiatives within a school district.  Some are programs initiated by one college.  Others are the result of leadership at the state level.  Still others are financed the federal government.[30]  The following list—not meant to be exhaustive—describes some of the many different programs to facilitate technical and career education:

  • Dual Training Competency Grants.  The Office of Higher Education has a $3 million budget to award grants to train employees for specific jobs.  The grants are made to industry participants that train the students and receive up to $6,000 per student for doing so.[31]  The grants have helped to train machinists, welders, quality assurance/food safety workers, agronomists, medical assistants, senior living culinary managers, security analysts, and software developers.
  • SciTechsperience.  This program,[32] which is administered through the Minnesota High Tech Association, provides small to mid-size employers that sponsor interns in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) a stipend of up to $2,500 per student for the intern’s wages. The state-funded program was created in 2012 with a budget of $2.7 million. 
  • Regional Centers of Excellence. In 2005, the Minnesota Legislature proposed regional Centers of Excellence to create collaboration between higher education facilities and industries.[33] Four centers were formed, including a Manufacturing and Applied Engineering Center in Bemidji; a Center for Engineering and Manufacturing in Mankato; an Advance IT Center at Metropolitan State University; and a Health Force Center in Winona.  Four other centers were created in 2013.  The program appears to have had some success.
  • Greater Minnesota Internship Training Tax Credit Program.  This program gives tax credits up to $2,000 to employers for the wage of student interns in Greater Minnesota[34].  Employers must apply to receive the tax credits, and the program has not generated much participation, leading the Minnesota Department of Revenue to question its efficiency as it is currently structured.[35]
  • Iron Range Engineering and Twin Cities Engineering. Upper-division engineering students at Minnesota State University-Mankato—many of whom are graduates of a Minnesota community college—are matched with employers to handle “hands on” engineering projects.  Employers in paper, mining, and energy production have sponsored these students, who generally work 40 hours a week in an engineering setting where they gain practical skills.  Upon graduation, they receive a B.S. in Engineering that is a cross between what might be traditionally called mechanical engineering and electrical engineering.[36]
  • PIPELINE.   Pipeline is a dual training experience sponsored by the Department of Labor and Industry and funded by grants issued by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.  Pipeline provides funding for employers to train employees in an occupation for which a competency standard has been identified in one of the four PIPELINE industries:  advanced manufacturing, agriculture, health care services, and information technology.[37] 
  • Minnesota Advanced Manufacturing–Partnership.  A dozen community colleges and two universities participate in this program, which seeks to train workers displaced by foreign trade, veterans, and other adults in advanced manufacturing.[38] The program uses both classroom learning and employer apprenticeships.  In September, South Central College was awarded a $15 million federal grant for this program.
  • Minnesota Jobs Skills Partnership.  The Minnesota Job Skills Partnership is a state agency governed by a 12-member board of directors that represents Minnesota businesses, labor, government, and educational institutions.  It administers five grant programs, the first of which was developed in 1983, to train employees of participating businesses.  Another program, called Pathways, was created by the Legislature in 1997 to train people transitioning from public assistance at employer workplaces.  Another program, called the Healthcare & Human Services Training Program, was created by the 1999 Legislature to alleviate health and human services worker shortages.  Another program, called the Low-Income Worker Training Program, was created by the Legislature in 2001 to train people with incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty level.  Another program, called the Special Incumbent Worker Training Program, was created by the Legislature in 2005 to expand opportunities for businesses and workers to gain new skills that are in demand in the Minnesota economy.[39]
  • Governor’s Workforce Development Board.  This program is mandated and funded by the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. The mission is to develop “a strategic integrated plan that supports economic growth and labor force needs intended to grow the capacity and performance of the state’s workforce development system.”[40] 
  • The Federal College Promise Plan.  The College Promise Campaign is designed to encourage communities to come together to support a tuition-free community college system.[41] The campaign reported in its first year that several communities have taken the initiative, including the state of Tennessee, the Cities of Kalamazoo, Boston, Salt Lake City, Santa Barbara, Houston, Detroit, and the Mohave Community college in Arizona. 

In Minnesota the College Occupational Scholarship Pilot Program was established to provide last dollar scholarships to cover tuition and fees not covered by state or federal grant aid for students seeking a credential in a designated high demand program area. A recipient must enroll within two years of high school graduation and maintain a GPA of 2.5. It is blended into several other programs mention above. 
 
While the Minnesota program is a step forward, it does not make community colleges tuition free.

  • The Minnesota College Occupational Scholarship Pilot Program.  This pilot program[42] was established by Minnesota to pay for tuition not covered by state or federal grants for students in high demand jobs with a 2.5 GPA.
  • Earn and Learn Training.  In 2014 President Obama launched the American Apprenticeship Initiative, in which the U.S. Department of Labor awarded $175 million in grants to 46 public-private partnerships. The goal was to train more than 36,000 apprentices in high-growth, high-tech industries like IT and advanced manufacturing.    Minnesota received a $5 million grant in 2015 to expand apprenticeships in advanced manufacturing, agriculture, health care, information technology, and transportation.[43]  One initiative under the Minnesota grant involved as many as 170 nursing apprenticeships in conjunction with Fairview Health System.  Others include advanced manufacturing apprenticeships at Owens Corning in Minneapolis and Viracom in Owatonna.  Approximately 20 companies have indicated an interest in participating, and the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry has stated that it hopes to enroll more than 100 employers over the next five years to train 1,000 new apprentices.
  • Certification and Certificate Programs.  Certification is the recognition by an occupation that a person has achieved a level of competency in the field or profession.[44]  Hundreds of occupations—including pilots, athletic trainers, court reporters, interior designers, and medical coders—provide a form of occupational certification that may or may not require a level of formal education.[45]

A different form of certification involves the intergenerational transfer of knowledge between older workers who want to update their technical skills to younger workers who want to gain expertise. MinnPost  has written extensively on this.[46]   Certificates are provided by colleges to people who complete a level of skill-based courses.  For example, Hennepin Technical College offers over 70 certificates in over 25 different programs. The certificates do not require the time or expense of a degree and provide employer-relevant training.

  • Dislocated Worker Training Funds. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Education announced $500 million in grants to community colleges to train dislocated workers for new careers.  It appears that only one college in Minnesota received a grant, which was for less than $5 million.[47]
  • Even More Programs.  Individual higher education facilities offer may more programs.  Some have minimal financial support. 
The Proposal

Government and industry agree on the importance of CTE.  Despite the best of intentions, some of these initiatives appear to be underfunded, duplicative, or unduly restrictive. The success of others has not been evaluated. And the involvement of so many government agencies creates a fragmented and patchy system.
 
I have heard from teachers, employers, students, and families who are confused about the maze of programs and changing rules.  Many don’t even know programs exist.  And I have heard from employers who want to do their part but who get frustrated by endless reporting, the byzantine applications, government delay, and the low-ball financial incentives for participating.  Because of this, our education system is not always best-positioned to meet the dynamic needs of a changing workforce.
 
The good news is that there is projected to be increased future demand for employees who are trained to work in fields like information technology, health care, and the skilled trades.  But to meet these needs, Minnesota will need to produce workers with the right skills who will be rewarded for their educational investment with jobs that pay a middle-class income.
 
At the state level, we should aggressively coordinate the myriad of programs described above.  The coordinator should report to the Governor and have the authority and aptitude to innovate and cut through red tape.  When I say “coordinator,” I am being polite.  Think General George Patton. The coordinator should have the authority to marshal state and federal resources in the most efficient fashion possible in partnership with private industry.  The coordinator should undertake the following steps:

  • Facilitate relationships and coordination between employers, labor organizations, the private sector, and higher education institutions.  Then coax leaders to recruit other industry participants to offer internships and paid jobs.
  • Enable industry to participate in the design of programs and curriculums, with the goal being to identity the areas where there will be job openings and to train people for these jobs.
  • Involve trade associations, industry leaders, labor unions, and workforce investment boards in the development of programs.
  • Run a fluid and dynamic process that makes real-time adjustments based on actual labor needs.
  • Be the State of Minnesota’s ambassador to Washington, D.C. and other states on these initiatives and identify national job shortage areas where Minnesota may be able to recruit employers based on its skilled workforce.
  • In recognition that job needs differ by community, sponsor dialogue among students, employers, labor unions and educators in local communities and on a regional basis to identify the best fields and courses of student to provide technical and career education.
  • Where appropriate, develop a pipeline of talent that employers in a region can depend on for advancement.
  • Tap proven experts to assist in delineating the competencies and skills needed for markets.
  • Consult with participants—who should include students, employers, and educators—to measure the effectiveness of the programs using demonstrable metrics and to improve future programs based on these evaluations.  The aim should be to build on programs that work and to scrap those that don’t.
  • Expedite program approval for educators in the CTE area.
  • Support financially and administratively the establishment of CTE educator programs at higher education institutions. These programs must respect and maintain the expertise required of professionally licensed educators in Minnesota.  Find creative and streamlined ways to subsidize the cost of developing and implementing the technical and career education training programs, cutting through bureaucracy and red-tape for employers.                                                                           

Above all, the coordinator should be a champion for creating opportunities for students to get middle class jobs and be part of the Ownership Society. It is critical that Minnesota align its CTE delivery system so that industry need not look to other states for a skilled workforce. 
 
Sincerely,
 
Lori Swanson
Attorney General