STAPLES — Local business owners, managers, school and college personnel, and community members are invited to collaborate in career and college readiness activities at the third-annual Building the 21st Century Workforce Conference Dec. 8 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the National Joint Powers Alliance (NJPA) in Staples.

NJPA Education Solutions Consultant and event coordinator Bart Graves says the goal of the conference is to address workforce gaps in Region 5 – the area comprised of Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd, and Wadena counties.

There’s a deficit between skills needed and skills available, and Graves sees this conference as an opportunity for professionals on both sides of the issue to come together and develop creative solutions. This year’s conference will focus on initiatives and programming for youth grades 7-12. A program for K-6 career programming will take place in the spring of 2018.

“We want to gain insight from business leaders and educators and see how we can work together to help our students make career choices that meet the labor demands in central Minnesota,” Graves said.

He’s particularly looking for attendees who represent the areas of high demand in our region’s workforce: agriculture, energy, transportation, manufacturing, robotics, culinary arts/hospitality, and healthcare. The focus of this year’s conference will be bringing business to school.

“We’re trying to bring more businesses in for this conference and have discussions by industry,” Graves explained. “We want to know the needs of the workforce and how we can address them.”

The conference will open with a keynote address from Cheryal Lee Hills, executive director of the Region 5 Development Commission, and Dr. Hara Charlier, president of Central Lakes Community College. Dan Solomon, a US Senate Congressional Staffer, will also provide a legislative update for Career Programs.

Representatives from a few current regional programs will provide brief updates before participants divide into breakout sessions covering Work Ethics/Skills, Business Engagement with Schools, Job Shadowing/Work Experience, STEM Instruction, and Technology in Education.

The sessions will provide a better understanding of what’s currently being done to address the workforce gap and what resources are available.

In the afternoon, attendees will divide into career cluster collaboration meetings,  small groups organized by industry and comprised of educators, program directors, and employers, to discuss best practices, challenges, partnership opportunities, and future planning.

“We hope local business leaders and educators will bring ideas to help build on current programs, plus we want to provide a way for people to get more involved,” Graves said. “It’s our intention to help students successfully transition from high school to training and/or work. This may involve formal education, an earned industry-recognized credential that leads to a satisfying entry-level job, a short-term training program, and many other options.”

Last year’s conference attracted over 100 participants. NJPA hopes to build off that momentum.

For information and registration, visit, or contact Graves at (320) 349-0161. Cost is $25, which includes lunch, Region 5 Career and College Readiness Program Directory, and career and college readiness books for further individual study.


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