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Initiatives aim to build N.D. workforce

Grand Forks isn't the only community in North Dakota dealing with workforce development issues. At the close of 2006, unemployment was at 2.9 percent in Bismarck. It was even lower in Fargo, sitting at an even 2 percent.

Grand Forks isn't the only community in North Dakota dealing with workforce development issues. At the close of 2006, unemployment was at 2.9 percent in Bismarck. It was even lower in Fargo, sitting at an even 2 percent.

As a result, wages and benefits are improving around the state. It's because of what the labor market demands, said North Dakota Commerce Commissioner Shane Goettle. "(Employers) are responding to market forces," he said. "There's not a lot we have to do to act as a catalyst to get them to do that."

However, there are areas in which state entities are working with businesses to address issues related to workers. According to officials from both the Department of Commerce and Job Service North Dakota, workforce development is on the minds of everyone from Gov. John Hoeven to small business owners in Grand Forks.

"It really requires a combination effort," said Larry Anderson, director of Workforce Programs for Job Service North Dakota.

During his 2007 State of the State address, Hoeven alluded to four initiatives designed to promote workforce development in North Dakota. Those programs, which essentially run the gamut of workforce development, are Innovate ND, Operation Intern, the Career Specialist program and the Talent Initiative.

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Innovate ND is a program designed to promote entrepreneurship in the state. The program includes a competition that encourages entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into actual businesses.

Goettle said Operation Intern and the Career Specialist program are designed to put young people in touch with North Dakota businesses. Operation Intern focuses on internship opportunities, while the Career Specialist program take a more broad approach. It emphasizes raising awareness of the state's educational, training and career opportunities among high school students.

Maren Daley, executive director of Job Service North Dakota, said the Talent Initiative is still in the conceptual stages. The initiative is a joint effort between Job Service and the Department of Commerce to partner with employers to train and recruit workers.

The theme, she said, is "Workforce development for economic development."

"It's all about trying to attract, expand and retain the people that our businesses need and create opportunities," Goettle added.

The initial concept for the program was developed during a workforce development retreat last summer.

All of the statewide workforce development efforts are related to knowing the labor landscape, Anderson said. "It's all based and predicated upon gathering good workforce intelligence," he added.

For employers, it involves an element of creativity in recruiting and retention programs, but more importantly, simply knowing what current and prospective employees want in terms of scheduling, wages and benefits.

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It's also an issue of raising awareness of job opportunities in the state. That involves reaching out to North Dakotans, as well as out-of-state recruiting.

In November, North Dakota employers participated in a St. Paul event called "Experience North Dakota." Goettle said the goal was to promote the state's job opportunities to individuals living in the Twin Cities area.

Invitations were sent to former North Dakotans and other individuals with ties to the state in an attempt to bring people back to the state. Goettle said response was positive and the Department of Commerce is looking at organizing similar events in the future.

He'd like to target areas "where our brain drain has landed before," such as Denver and other cities in the Upper Midwest.

Another option, Goettle said, is reaching out to distressed areas of the country where workers have been laid off. "We have a real need to step forward and facilitate the matching up of skills wherever they can be found with these opportunities," he said.

Edison reports on business. Reach him at (701) 780-1107, (800) 477-6572, ext. 107; or jedison@gfherald.com .

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