Bill Blazar, interim president
of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce
Might human capital shortage force Minnesota
employers to relocate?
Civic CaucusFocus on Human CapitalInterview December
Adams, Bill Blazar,
David Broden, Janis Clay (phone), Pat Davies, Paul Gilje, Curt Johnson,
Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper (phone), Ted Kolderie, Dan
(phone), Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, Fred Zimmerman
Minnesota's growth in the size of its human capital slows
dramatically, employers are reporting a talent shortage, more in the
technical education area than jobs requiring four-year degrees,
according to Bill Blazar. More training of job applicants, along with
better reporting of results from the organizations responsible for
such training, is essential, he said. The problem would be more
serious were it not for the substantial, but perhaps not widely
appreciated, contribution from foreign-born workers. They are much
younger than Minnesota-born residents and, therefore, their
significance will be even greater in coming years.
Minnesota Chamber of Commerce will give major attention in the 2015
Legislature to improving education at all levels. Currently, the
chamber sees a major need to change job-prospect attitudes of students
still in high school.
More school counselors are needed, with more emphasis on preparing for
careers. Parents and students need to realize that job prospects, and
earnings potential, are much better in the technical/non-B.A.
fields than has been thought to date.
Better home-to-work transportation is needed, to help broaden
employers' applicant pool and applicants' job choices. But planners
should look beyond investment in high-capital, fixed-route LRT or bus
routes to include flexible approaches that serve the actual location
of homes and work places.
Background In the
months since the Civic Caucus issued its
statement on human capital, we've concentrated on learning
more about the continuing need for a strong workforce in Minnesota in
Today's we're visiting with the head of the Minnesota Chamber of
Commerce, to learn about the role employers play in workforce training
relative to colleges, technical schools, and specialized training
Blazar is interim president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.
Blazar is a past member and chair of the board of the Minnesota
Government Relations Council. Blazar has also served in a leadership
capacity for Minnesota's P20 Education Partnership, the Minnesota
Health Data Institute, the Citizens League and the Lake
Calhoun Sailing School.
Prior to joining the Chamber, he was Manager of Government Affairs for
Target Corporation from 1987-1992.
Before working for Target, Blazar was a freelance public policy
analyst, specializing in state and local fiscal policy, economic
development and telecommunications.He has a B.A. (Political Science)
University and a M.A. (Public Affairs) from the Humphrey School of
Public Affairs, University of Minnesota.
Shortage of qualified workers is already showing in Minnesota. The
Chamber's recent Business Barometer poll of 350 randomly selected
Minnesota businesses reveals that fewer than half of employers believe
Minnesota has plenty of workers with the right skills for their
industry, Blazar said. The consensus is that this will affect
employers' ability to do business within a couple of years, if it
workforce findings are of special concern," Blazar said. "Employers
are telling us that workers are less prepared than they were two years
ago in the technical skills needed for specific industries. The
problem is exacerbated in light of the projected worker shortage that
program data supports these findings, Blazar said. With its 71 local
chamber affiliates, the Minnesota Chamber annually meets with nearly
1,000 employers across the state.
The interviews reveal that about 52 percent of firms interviewed in
the metro area and 38 percent of firms in greater
are planning to hire more workers next year.
Another 38 percent in the metro area and 53 percent in great Minnesota
are planning to keep their number of workers stable.
business barometer survey further revealed that the biggest current
barrier to creating more jobs in the state is difficulty in hiring and
Even in the depths of the recent recession, employers had openings
they couldn't fill, Blazar said.
Highest demand is for technical education. The
business barometer survey revealed that, among employers dissatisfied
with current applicants, 40 percent of employers wanted more
applicants with technical education, 18 percent wanted more with
bachelor's degree, 4 percent wanted more with advanced degrees and 18
percent wanted more with a high school education.
Sharp decline in rate of growth in Minnesota's labor force. Employers
today have fewer choices for potential workers in Minnesota than in
years past, and no improvement in this trend is evident. Annual growth
rate in the size of
labor force stood at 2.7
percent in 1970-1980, according to State Demographer data reported by
That percentage has declined to 0.5
percent in 2010-2015, and is projected to be even lower until at least
2045, according to the State Demographer.
Employers provide some training for all employees. As
one looks at the involvement of employers in training, Blazar said we
need to remember that everyone receives some skill training specific
to the job being performed. The big question is the underlying skills
that employees bring to the workplace.
illustrate how some employers take training very seriously, Blazar
cited an example of a contract welding company that flatly claims to
employ the "best" welders and provides intensive training to achieve
The employer expects to refine every worker's welding skills, but does
not and cannot teach employees how to read, add and subtract numbers
or solve problems.
workforce training programs have questionable value. Blazar
said the state has a proliferation of training programs. What's
missing too often, but urgently needed are (1) identification of
expected outcomes, (2) regular measurements on whether outcomes are
being achieved, and (3) public reporting of the results.
Lakes Chamber is leading in work-based learning and career exposure. Blazar
highlighted two programs called "Bridges Workplace Connection and
Career Academies" conducted by the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce
for students from 23 area high schools. Workplace Connection helps
businesses, students and teachers structure work-based learning
experiences ranging from an annual career day to job shadowing to
internships. Bridges Career Academies offer high school juniors and
seniors the opportunity to explore a career pathway through programs
of study taught in their schools by high school and college faculty.
Work-based learning and an introduction to entrepreneurship is
included in all such academies.
similar initiative called "CEOs in the Classroom" has been undertaken
by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber, Blazar said. The initiative has two
goals: (1) engage business owners and managers with educators to
encourage educational offerings relevant to future employment, and
offer frank conversations with 8th graders about realities of
graduating and being financially independent.
Immigrants have been key to Minnesota's job growth. Citing
the American Communities Survey by the U.S.
Census for 2009-2011, Blazar noted that foreign-born residents of
Minnesota are more likely to be of working age than Minnesota-born
residents. For example, 46 percent of the foreign-born individuals in
Minnesota are between 25 and 44 years of age, compared to only 25
percent of Minnesota's US-born individuals in that age group.
Immigrants make up 7 percent of
population, but 9 percent of its workforce, he said. As baby boomers
retire and the growth in our labor force slows to almost zero,
immigrants will, he expects, continue to be a demographic bright spot
for the state.
Immigrants are present at every skill level. Whatever
business location he visits, Blazar said he sees immigrants at every
skill level. Immigrants are major entrepreneurs.
Much of the state's success in starting new businesses is because of
immigrant start-ups, he said.
Immigrants seem to have the drive and the ability to start new
businesses faster than non-immigrants.
Basic skills training is lacking among many Native American and
African American job seekers.While
looking positively at the immigrant population, Blazar said that
vastly more needs to be done in providing basic skills for Native
Americans and African Americans, not only for their own potential job
opportunities, but also because the state urgently needs a
need to recognize income potential from less-than-B.A. training. Blazar
stressed how important it is for parents and students alike to
recognize income potential from occupations requiring technical
training. To illustrate, he said that a person with a high school
degree can become licensed for operating heavy equipment with less
than a year's training and make a very good wage.
Some who choose this route could later decide whether to pursue a
four-year college degree, he said.
note of how job requirements themselves are changing. Responding
to a questioner's comment about the changing work place, Blazar noted
how much different manufacturing is today than it was in the 1950s.
People still work at plants that make things, but the skills are
markedly different. Now manufacturing employees need to work with
highly automated machines and precision manufacturing equipment, he
Successful technical colleges are singled out. Responding
to a question about technical colleges working well with employers,
Blazar cited Alexandria Technical and Community College, which gained
much of its reputation of good connections with business from
leadership by its previous president Kevin Kopischke, who recently
retired. Blazar also highlighted
Technical College in Winona, MN.
Later in the meeting, Blazar mentioned how similar manufacturing
employers in Alexandria cooperate with each other on sharing employees.
Employers with more jobs available will welcome workers from
businesses who are cutting back, temporarily or otherwise.
important to change job-prospect attitudes in high school. Blazar
and Civic Caucus questioners engaged in extensive discussion over
whether high schools in
are doing enough to encourage students to consider technical jobs
after high school. Blazar cited a southern
city where a successful contract manufacturing firm had the
unfortunate, inaccurate, but widespread reputation of being an
employer of last resort, as if working there wouldn't help any young
worker get ahead.
discussion revealed that perhaps as much, or more emphasis, ought to
be placed on the supply side of the workforce, that is broadening
potential workers' interests in potential jobs, as on the demand side,
helping employers fill needed jobs.
One person suggested that perhaps what is needed is to re-think the
last two years of high school. Blazar mentioned the efforts of the
Brainerd and Grand Rapids chambers, as described earlier in this
report. A questioner noted that some high schools in Minnesota,
including Detroit Lakes High School, actively promote work internships
for students while they are still in high school.
idea from the discussion was whether high school graduation standards
might be changed from "what requirements must be met to graduate" to
"what requirements must be met to go on to the workforce".
Participants bemoaned the guidance-counselor-student ratio, which in
some schools is 1 to 500 or worse.
Re-thinking the guidance counselor's role might be appropriate in some
cases, it was suggested, particularly if such counselors aren't giving
appriopriate attention to the relevance of various options in
postsecondary education to actual employment opportunities.
participant who visits troubled youth in detention centers pointed out
that most youth at age 14 have no thought of what they'll do after
high school. But 17-year-olds are beginning to be receptive to hard
questions about their future.
Another participant noted how laws seem to artificially postpone
adulthood by unreasonable restrictions on work that 16-year-olds are
allowed to do and whether they should be required to stay in regular
school after age 16, rather than preparing for jobs.
Blazar agreed that 16-and-17-year-olds represent a tremendous
resource. Moreover, he said, particular attention is needed with
Native Americans and African Americans of this age.
group also discussed
Post Secondary Education Options (PSEO) law that allows 10th through
12th graders to take college courses tuition-free.
For many years PSEO was held back because school districts didn't want
to lose state revenue. But recently the law was changed to require
that ALL Minnesota districts
must provide "up to date" information about PSEO to students grades
8-11. The law also was changed so that colleges could provide
information to students attending high schools enrolling at least 700
students, grades 10-12, about how PSEO could save students money.
Another participant asked whether the social studies curriculum in
high school does, or should, include discussion of career education.
Character traits are important. The
discussion moved beyond job requirements to character traits of
workers, such as showing up for work regularly and on time.
Far more serious is the often cavalier attitude of some students
toward drug use. One employer interviewed 10 candidates for a job,
only to disqualify seven of them who flunked a drug test.
Agreeing with the importance of character traits, Blazar cited a
health facility where many nurses, while technically qualified and
aware that their positions needed to be filled 24/7, still resisted
anything but Monday-Friday day shifts.
A questioner noted that this phenomenon might be the result of poorly
structured incentive pay rather than an issue of character traits.
Education will be the Minnesota Chamber's likely legislative emphasis
in 2015. PreK-12 education will be the principal human capital focus
of the Chamber for the 2015 Legislature, Blazar said.
Another need, he stressed, is to make available, in real time,
information about employers' needs for very specific training. Too
often, he said, it seems as if such information is two or three years
old when action finally is taken by the appropriate institutions of
postsecondary education. Other initiatives might include teacher
quality and career (not just guidance) counseling.
Should there be a change in the state's structure of post-secondary
was noted that in the 1960s, vocational education was a standard for
high school curriculums, and some school districts operated their own
vocational schools. Subsequently, the vocational schools were removed
from local school districts and made part of a state system that
included junior colleges. Technical and junior colleges were placed
under a single state board. Later that state board and another board
for four-year state colleges were combined into the current
State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) Board.
questioners wondered whether attention to more job-oriented education
would be improved if the community and technical colleges were
organizationally separated from four-year universities.
Blazar suggested that perhaps the state needs to clarify the purposes
of the different types of postsecondary education, so that the roles
of technical colleges, community colleges, and four-year universities
are better understood.
There is coordination among state agencies involved in human capital. Responding
to a question, Blazar cited close ties between the Department of
Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and MnSCU. The Department
of Labor and Industry plays a significant role in apprenticeships, he
Using transportation to broaden employers' applicant pool and
applicants' job choices.A
participant noted that employees need to get from home to work in a
reasonable time, say, an hour or less.
If an individual doesn't have access to a personal car, certain jobs
can be out of reach, because getting to the job will take too much
It was noted that fixed-route transit, whether bus or LRT,
serves many workers very effectively, but most jobs in the metro area
aren't reachable in reasonable time by fixed-route transit. The
question, a participant asked, is whether more attention should be
placed directly on designing transportation options for the job trip.
participant suggested that the key transit strategy for the work trip
should be to enlarge the number of work locations accessible from
low-income homes. It should be possible to estimate the percentage of
the region's jobs that are reachable by transit within reasonable
time, say, one hour, from a given residence. Such data would clearly
indicate where fixed-route transit is the best solution or whether
other options, probably utilizing the personal car, should be
implemented. Such a decision is critical, a participant noted, because
of heavy capital investment in expanding fixed-route transit, whether
by light rail or bus. Participants cited innovative ways of using the
car to expand access to jobs.
Blazar said the Chamber will be chiefly interested during the 2015
legislative session in lower-capital transportation choices.
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. The Interview Group
includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and
business. Click here
to see a short personal background of each.
S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill
Frenzel, Paul Gilje (executive director), Dwight Johnson, Randy Johnson, Sallie
Kemper, Ted Kolderie,
Dan Loritz (chair),
Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, John Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne
Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmerman