TigerPath Skilled Workforce Development Initiative Wins Mid-America EDC’s Workforce Development Award

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Hutchinson Economic Development Authority was honored with Mid-America EDC’s Workforce Development Award for its TigerPath Skilled Workforce Development Initiative. With over 12,000 skilled jobs in Minnesota going unfilled, the initiative's launch was timely and necessary for filling open positions within the community. The TigerPath initiative is being used to solve workforce shortages in Hutchinson and to guarantee that employers have a steady stream of talent in the future. Miles Seppelt, Economic Development Director for the City of Hutchinson, said of their strategy, “It’s very important to think outside the box.  Here in Hutchinson we’re just not convinced that “talent attraction” (if it means drawing people from other locations) will work. With unemployment so low people can work pretty much wherever they want. We firmly believe the solution to the skilled workforce shortage is right in front of us: they’re in 10th grade. At present we’re sending roughly 58% of graduating high school seniors to get the 33% of the jobs in our economy that actually require a bachelor’s degree or higher (Harvard University study). The reality is that ? of jobs in the U.S. economy require 2-years or less of post high-school education. If we can get young people moving in that direction we can (a) reduce college costs, (b) reduce underemployment, (c) reduce student debt, (d) reduce college dropout rates AND as a bonus (e) meaningfully address our nation’s skilled workforce shortage.”

The Hutchinson Economic Development Authority in partnership with the local school district (ISD 423), Ridgewater College, the Southwest Initiative Foundation, 28 local manufacturers and employers worked together to develop the TigerPath Skilled Workforce Initiative. The Initiative is comprised of six strategies: realigning high school education to help students discover their talents, building seamless educational pathways between high school and college, changing outdated stereotypes about manufacturing, building school-employer relationships, upgrading technical education facilities and equipment, and launching Tiger Manufacturing – an authentic manufacturing business based in the high school, run by students, designing and manufacturing real products for real customers. To bring these strategies together, they created the Center for Technical Excellence at Hutchinson High School with over $1 million of new equipment. Hutchinson now has the best-equipped and is the most-advanced high school technical education facility in Minnesota. As a result, enrollments have dramatically increased in first year “pathway” classes such as Welding I, Drafting Projections and Woods I – in many cases with more than 100 students enrolling in such courses each year. For example, in 2018, they had seven sections of welding at Hutchinson High School. In addition, an Applied Engineering class was offered for the first time in 2019. The response was incredible with 120 students, including 45 girls, enrolling in five sections.

The TigerPath Initiative takes a truly comprehensive approach to education by providing students with the skills they need to be successful in the 21st century and changing the attitudes that led to the existing “college for all” mentality. With the TigerPath initiative, students get an individualized education based on their own interests and aptitudes. The ability to identify an interesting career path and to gain career-based skills in high school is a huge advantage for students who may not need a 4-year degree. Not only will they be able to enter a rewarding career faster, their parents will save a lot of money on college expenses. With students able to earn industry certificates, and Ridgewater College offering free college credit, the savings for students participating in the program is even higher. “We hope it will revolutionize how students and parents look at education and a career.  We want to see 2-year education and career choices valued just as much as 4-year education and career choices,” said Seppelt. Students choosing this path are presented with significant opportunities available within Hutchinson’s business community. As employers get a larger supply of job candidates with useful skills, it creates growth opportunities for the entire community, making the TigerPath initiative a win-win for students, employers and the community at large.

Hutchinson’s approach to workforce development is working, in part due to the collaboration between stakeholders and a community focus on getting things done. The TigerPath Initiative had its origins in work completed by the high school principal, who implemented an academy-based education system. Next, the school district superintendent and city economic development director teamed up to raise funds to modernize the school’s technical education area.  At that point, the Chamber and local businesses began to get involved, with the Chamber providing tours of local manufacturers in need of talent and local businesses donating $1.54 million to the initiative. To add an additional incentive for students, Ridgewater College began providing free college credit for certain classes. The TigerPath Skilled Workforce Development Initiative has truly been a community-wide effort to equip high school students with the skills they need to enter the workforce shortly after graduation.

Communities looking to launch their own workforce initiative can learn from Hutchinson, and many already have. Since TigerPath Skilled Workforce Development Initiative launched, more than a dozen communities across Minnesota have called to discuss implementing something similar. “The response has been sensational, with many communities implementing portions of the TigerPath Initiative. We are happy to share ideas and believe that there is no need to invent new ideas if you can find out what successful organizations are doing, adapt and implement their strategies in your own community.  In fact, many of our activities are ideas we saw others doing. The difference is that here in Hutchinson we sort of adopted an “all of the above” approach to skilled workforce development,” said Seppelt.

 

In addition to adopting Hutchinson’s ideas, Miles Seppelt has suggestions for how to get initiatives off the ground quickly. This includes not waiting for everything to be perfect. Make a plan and get started, working on one thing and continue to improve upon the process (something Hutchinson is still doing). He also recommends working with small groups who are more nimble and easier to coordinate than large committees.  “Most of the work has been done by very small group of 4-5 people meeting on an as-needed basis to coordinate our activities. A small group of 3-4-5 people is what gets things done.” They created community-based advisory committees for each Academy to monitor progress and develop action plans to expand community partnerships, along with the TigerPath Steering Committee. Still, these groups are as small as possible to ensure that they can get things done quickly and remain responsive to the changing needs of students and employers.

Hutchinson’s responsiveness and all-encompassing approach to workforce development has included the implementation of several support structures, in addition to educational programs at the high school. For example, they created a dedicated website (www.HutchTigerPath.com)  to promote TigerPath Academics so that students and their parents can begin exploring career paths. In addition, local manufacturers and other employers have signed up to provide tours, offer job shadowing opportunities and internships to students. This community-wide effort to address Hutchinson’s workforce shortages has been remarkable and a major contributor to the success of the Initiative. This is truly an example of an entire community working together to shape and change its future, for the better.

Economic development agencies and community leaders looking to learn more about the TigerPath Skilled Workforce Development Initiative can contact Miles Seppelt at  mseppelt@ci.hutchinson.mn.us or by calling (320) 234-4223.

 

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