FDLTCC, Sappi sign job skills partnership“You only know what you know,” stated Sappi finishing engineer Tom Westerback during remarks at the signing of a special cooperative job training agreement at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College (FDLTCC) last Friday.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
“You only know what you know,” stated Sappi finishing engineer Tom Westerback during remarks at the signing of a special cooperative job training agreement at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College (FDLTCC) last Friday.
Westerback went on to make the point that merely settling for “what you know” is no longer an option in today’s competitive workforce. He explained that for many years, most people in this area operated on the belief that there would always be jobs at the local paper mill – and that there would always be enough workers to fill those jobs.
“Over the last few years, however,” Westerback stated, “the mill can’t find enough workers with the kind of electrical or instrumentation skills we need. Add to that the massive retirements we’re facing [with the aging of the Baby Boomer generation], and we no longer have the workforce to man the jobs.”
Westerback was one of the guest speakers preceding the signing of the landmark workforce training agreement between Sappi Fine Paper, FDLTCC and the Minnesota Job Skills Partnership (MJSP). The agreement sets the stage for a cooperative training effort geared toward increasing the skill level of Sappi’s incumbent and future workforces.
Westerback stated the emerging skill gap at Sappi represented an urgent need that had to be addressed, so Sappi and FDLTCC joined forces to put together a request for grant funding through the MJSP. The MJSP offers technical, financial and job training assistance, bringing together businesses who have specific education needs with educational institutions that can provide the type of customized training programs they require.
The resulting $328,180 grant will support a three-year training collaboration between Sappi, FDLTCC and MJSP. For its part, Sappi will contribute some $816,000 to the training project, which will provideentry- and advanced-level training to some 318 current Sappi electricians, technicians and mechanics. With FDLTCC contributing some $15,000 to the training initiative as well, the total investment in the new program totals over $1 million.
MJSP Director Paul Moe explained that the Job Skills Partnership was formed 25 years ago, through the efforts of State Senator Bruce Moe, with a few hundred thousand dollars in state funding. Since that time, he said it has grown to include some $7 million in base funding, with the minimum one-to-one required match often leveraging the investment to more than twice that amount.
Speaker Richard Tvedten, director of customized training and continuing education for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, said the manufacturing skills provided through the newly forged training partnership will also be available to other manufacturers and their employees, and added the group will be partnering with Cloquet High School as well in providing welding training through the program.
Although the majority of the training will take place in Sappi’s newly created technical training center classroom and shop floor settings, the welding training will take place at the fully equipped welding lab at the high school.
“It will expose younger students to skills development, guide them in the direction of more viable wages and aid in college recruitment,” Tvedten commented.
Specific training areas to be addressed in the upcoming initiative will include instrumentation skills, industrial rigging, fluid power and welding.
Instrumentation skills improvement training will enhance technicians’ ability to maintain, troubleshoot and correct operating problems on instrumentation equipment, and industrial rigging training will do the same for those working with mechanical equipment.
Fluid power training will be geared toward helping mechanics identify common failures and reduce potential system failures, and welding training will provide workers with core competencies, paving the way for some who demonstrate strong aptitudes to progress through advanced welding training.
The new program has been endorsed by the SEIU-NCFO (National Conference of Firemen & Oilers) Local 939.
“I see this as a big deal for our community,” Westerback summed up. “We are all in this together. It’s all about education, and it has the potential to be a big win for everybody. I am totally confident that we can pull this off and be successful.”
Pine Journal Publisher/ reporter Wendy Johnson can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.