East Grand Forks looks to high school programs and solving child care needs to address workforce shortages
Paul Gorte, the East Grand Forks economic development director, said workforce shortages are one of the top challenges business leaders are facing this year along with supply chain issues and inflation, which are all affecting businesses on a national level.
EAST GRAND FORKS – A workforce shortage is affecting businesses nationwide, and in East Grand Forks, solutions start with various programs and other incentives.
Paul Gorte, East Grand Forks' economic development director, said workforce shortages are one of the top challenges business leaders face this year, along with supply chain issues and inflation.
There are things the city can do to help on all three, but Gorte said the supply chain issue is difficult since it revolves around factors outside the city, and inflation is more impacted by national policies. With workforce retention, however, Gorte said the city works on several different levels with several programs geared toward high school students, college students and those who are out of school as well as addressing child care needs in the community.
“We’re trying a lot of different things and in particular we try to focus on things that are specific to businesses so they can make it available and create opportunities,” Gorte said.
Programs on a high school level include Career Conversations, run through Northern Valley Careers, and the Wave Academy, run through East Grand Forks Senior High School. Stephanie Larson, the career academy coordinator, said Wave Academy, which has been in place for three years, helps connect students with local employers in careers they possibly want to pursue.
“I kept saying kids can’t be what they don’t see,” Larson said. “And our kids stay here. In East Grand Forks, I would say at least 90% of our kids stay in the community, so why are we not finding that connection between what they’re learning in school and what they’re going to need to be successful in the community when they graduate?”
Before the academy opened, Larson said students weren’t offered as many resources if they didn’t know what career they wanted to pursue. Students start in the academy as freshmen and finish as seniors. Throughout the four years, they learn about how to apply their interests to a career and get job shadowing and internship opportunities.
The Northern Valley Career Expo is another way to let students explore high-wage, in-demand careers in the region. The expo brings in 1,800 high school students from around the region, including northwest Minnesota and northeast North Dakota. This year, the expo will be held at the Alerus Center on Oct. 26.
“They can orient their future education either through a college education if what they want to do requires college, or they can go into careers that don’t require college education with all the debt that’s associated with a college education today,” Gorte said.
On a college and post-college level, Northland Community and Technical College offers technical training for a variety of jobs.
Another solution for workforce shortages is related to child care needs. A shortage of child care slots has led to people leaving their jobs.
“We're doing a lot of things in child care,” Gorte said. “We're working to try to increase the supply of child care, which will also enable people to enter the workforce or return to the workforce."
Town hall meetings have been held to create solutions for addressing child care challenges by getting feedback from both parents and child care providers.
A grant application has been submitted to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development for child care funding to assist a potential child care facility in town.
Mayor Steve Gander has also addressed the community about the need for people in the workforce. During the Sept. 6 City Council meeting, Gander encouraged people who left the workforce to, if they can, “get back in the game.”
In an interview with the Herald, Gander said the city recognizes the workforce needs of the community.
“For all we know they’re in any sector of our economy and we desperately need all hands on deck for everyone to give their all to get this engine of our economy back up and running again,” Gander said.