Seamless Career Pathway offers no dead ends for Minnesota manufacturing workforce

BEMIDJI, Minn. — Easing the workforce demands faced by Minnesota’s manufacturers today and in the future is the charge given to the 360 Degrees Manufacturing and Applied Engineering Center of Excellence located in Bemidji, Minn.

Led by Bemidji State University, the center is comprised of eight Minnesota higher education institutions working together to address the challenges faced by Minnesota manufacturers, who have repeatedly expressed a need for skilled workers at all experience levels. Manufacturers not only are seeking an increased skill level from new entrants into the work force, but also a professional development avenue for currently-employed professionals.

The Seamless Career Pathway
During the Fall 2007 academic semester 360 Degrees initiated the Seamless Career Pathway (SCP), designed to identify common skills and knowledge within manufacturing fields of study across each of the education partner institutions.

The SCP shows students or potential students at any level of experience how they can start their education, begin working in a manufacturing career or accelerate their advancement potential within a company. It creates a circular path with no specific entry or exit points, affording students the opportunity to move from high school into a two-year technical college program, and upon completion of that program move either to a four-year college or into the workforce. It also provides a vehicle for those who do choose to enter the workforce to easily return to college and complete their training at the baccalaureate or master’s levels later in their careers.

This comprehensive model not only encourages students to quickly gain the skills necessary to meet the needs of manufacturers, it also affords companies with employees lacking in skills needed to advance their careers with an avenue for continuing education.

“The Seamless Career Pathway has multiple entry and exit points with no dead ends,” Karen White, director of 360 Degrees, said. “Not everybody knows their potential at age 18, nor do they know exactly where their career and life path could take them. What we are really trying to do is meet individuals when and where they are ready.”

Student Education
The SCP has made it possible for students to easily transfer coursework from one school in the consortium to another within specific fields of study. The task of working through barriers traditionally separating educational institutions from each other has been accomplished through a series of Memoranda of Understanding between the eight schools in the consortium.

One of the six memoranda that have been signed establishes Project Lead the Way courses, offered only in high schools, that now will be made available for college credit. These agreements are making it possible for students to be rewarded for pursuing technology, engineering and manufacturing knowledge at the secondary level.

The SCP is made possible by two new engineering programs developed by the Department of Technological Studies at Bemidji State University, which began offering a bachelor of science degree in engineering technology in Fall 2007. A bachelor of applied science in applied engineering is expected to launch in 2008. The applied engineering program is designed to build from education and credits received at a technical college and will be available in its entirety through distance delivery methods.

Industry Response
Early industry response to the SCP has been positive.

“We are amazed at how well 360 Degrees has done with its Seamless Career Pathway,” said Dan Conroy, operations manager at precision engineering firm Nexen Group, Inc. “We have many employees who have begun the first part of their career and educational journey with technical college training. They have gone on to excel and grow in our companies, and have become leaders in civic groups and community organizations. We encourage – and will pay for – them to pursue further education, but they usually run into substantial barriers. 360 Degrees has offered a breakthrough to those barriers.

“Our employees undergo the same rigor as traditional students in those classes,” Conroy added. “They will enrich the classes and improve our companies. In the end, by reducing the barriers in a sensible way, there will be more individuals enrolled in certificate, diploma and degree programs. It helps us in industry, it helps the colleges, and more importantly it helps talented individuals achieve their potentials.”

For more information, contact Jodi Mutnansky at the 360 Degrees Manufacturing and Applied Engineering Center of Excellence by phone at (218) 755-2206.

About 360 Degrees
360 Degrees-Manufacturing and Applied Engineering Center of Excellence is a partnership of eight institutions led by Bemidji State University which includes Central Lakes College, Minneapolis Community and Technical College, Northland Community and Technical College, Northwest Technical College, Pine Technical College, Saint Paul College, and St. Cloud Technical College. 360 Degrees was initiated by the Governor of Minnesota to strengthen the state’s manufacturing economic sector and seeks to serve the needs of industry by cultivating a potential future workforce through more flexible educational opportunities via the concept of the seamless career pathway.
For further information about 360 Degrees, visit it on the Web at: