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Over 100 attend NJPA's workforce conference

Over 100 people gathered at National Joint Powers Alliance Dec. 16 for collaboration in college and career readiness for Region 5 students at the Building the 21st Century Workforce Conference. The conference was offered by NJPA's Education Solutions and organized by its College and Career Readiness Consultant, Bart Graves.

"We had students, industry people, agency people, and teachers here looking at what we can do about college and career readiness, and employment shortages," Graves said. "The participation we had was incredible."

Graves structured the day so the group could focus on finding out what works and doing more of it.

The conference opened with a large-group assembly, which included a keynote presentation from Kristi Westbrok of Consolidated Telecommunications Company in Brainerd on, "An Automated Workforce." Program updates followed, with presentations from Central Lakes College, M State, Minnesota Centers of Excellence, Central Minnesota Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities (CEO) Class, Little Falls Work Experience program, and more.

In the afternoon, attendees divided into five cluster meetings organized by career field: health care, agriculture/energy, hospitalities, elementary career programming, business/IT, and manufacturing/transportation/robotics.

Professionals in each field met with educators and school staff to discuss what's currently available to students with an interest in the field, what's needed, best practices, ideas for student engagement, and regional planning and goal setting. It was an opportunity for industry members to hear what schools and organizations are doing and how they can better support those efforts.

"Each cluster group came up with goals," Graves said. "For example, redeveloping a health care class delivery system and looking at how NJPA can come in as a neutral party, bringing schools, colleges, and agencies together. Another was to develop a list of in-demand jobs in the area and developing those career clusters to provide students with information on how you get training, what the opportunities are, and how to get in the field."

Graves says it's important to get students thinking about their interests and futures early on and help them prepare for post-secondary life, whether it's college, formal training, apprenticeships, or work.

"We really need to look at the system and see how we can help schools help students make career choices," Graves said. "In turn, this adds to our economy and to the vitality of our area colleges."

Graves will review each cluster group's goals, suggestions, and notes, plus individual participant feedback, and then look to make connections within Region 5 to make those goals happen.

"An event like this benefits our entire Region," said Tim Bjorge, Little Falls Community Schools High School Principal. "We have so many resources that are able to come together, to share and discover better ways for us to serve our students, and ultimately serve the employers in our Region."

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