Business leaders cite shortage of educated and skilled workers as primary barrier to companies’ growth, report shows

Posted: May 21, 2009

Contact: Doug Anderson, doug.anderson@so.mnscu.edu, 651-201-1426

Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system plans to strengthen education and training programs to meet emerging needs

Despite the current economic downturn, business leaders across the state overwhelmingly identified an insufficient supply of educated and skilled workers as the primary barrier to their companies’ long-term growth, according to a new report by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

Manufacturing companies specifically noted a shortage of highly trained technicians with skills in blueprint reading, automated systems, robotic controls, welding and basic math. Health care companies shared concerns about shortages of employees in such critical categories as primary care physicians, nurses and laboratory technicians.

Business leaders also cited difficulty in attracting qualified engineers, information technology workers who have stronger business-oriented analytical skills and employees with knowledge and experience in quality management.

The report, “Workforce of the Future: Leadership Reaches Out to Business,” was compiled after presidents and system leaders for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities visited 352 businesses last summer and fall. Each system representative called on about 10 businesses to further a Board of Trustees goal of enhancing the state’s economic competitiveness.

“Business leaders frequently pointed to the intellectual capital of the workforce as a key to their competitive advantage,” said Chancellor James H. McCormick, who also visited companies. “Our academic and customized training programs must align with the needs of business and industry to ensure Minnesota has a sufficient and well-educated workforce. This report now challenges our 32 colleges and universities to become more nimble and responsive to these needs.”

Though presidents have long-established relationships with many local businesses, the initiative allowed for a first-ever comprehensive and systematic approach to learn about current and future education and training needs. Nearly half of the visits were to manufacturers. The other half were to companies in health care, financial services, retail, the service industry, information technology, energy, agriculture and food production and engineering services.

Executives told system leaders that a need for new workplace competencies is emerging. These new competencies include advanced technology skills, business-critical “soft” skills, know-how in using “green” products and an ability to respond to global competition.

The report also found business leaders redefining “soft” skills to include customer relations, innovation, flexibility, adaptability and teamwork, said Mary Rothchild, director of the system’s strategic partnerships and workforce development and an author of the report. For example, a precision manufacturing executive said his company needs people with the intellectual curiosity to be innovative, excellent problem-solving skills and a desire to reduce costs.

To meet these needs, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system plans four steps: strengthening programs to ensure students have the necessary skills; expanding internship and apprenticeship options and on-the-job training; adding more online education and flexible programs; and continuing to work and communicate with local businesses.

Download a PDF of the report


Minnesota's 31 state community and technical colleges, and universities serve more than 430,000 students across the state.