Judy Mortrude and Nola Speiser of Minnesota FastTRAC
partnerships can help low-skilled adults become productive wage-earners
A Civic Caucus
Focus on Human Capital
David Broden, Janis
Clay (phone), Paul Gilje, Amir Gharbi (phone), Randy Johnson
(phone), Sallie Kemper, Dan Loritz, Judy Mortrude, Clarence
Shallbetter, and Nola Speiser
Minnesota urgently needs
more effective approaches to help up to 500,000 low-skilled adults
become more productive wage-earners, according to Judy Mortrude and
Nola Speiser, program administrators for MN FastTRAC, a special effort
of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development
(DEED). Such approaches should be carried out at the local level,
bringing together employers, educators, trainers and counselors, with
the target always being preparation for better jobs in specific
Today's interview with
leaders of MN FastTRAC, a state government effort to provide education
and training for under-employed adults, represents a follow-up to the
Civic Caucus' recently-released statement on human
Judy Mortrude and Nola
Speiser are state program administrators for MN FastTRAC. Mortrude has
over 30 years of experience developing, delivering, and managing
education projects for workforce development, particularly with low
literacy and high barrier populations. She was the lead administrator
for Minnesota's largest Adult Basic Education (ABE) consortium and
oversaw county, state, and federal grants including Functional Work
English, Office of Refugee Resettlement, EL/Civics, and a variety of
adult career pathway grants. She joined the Minnesota Department of
Employment and Economic Development in 2009 to staff MN FastTRAC.
Mortrude will soon leave MN FastTRAC for a new role for the Center
for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) as the Director of the Alliance for
Quality Career Pathways. She is a graduate of DePaul University
and currently an adjunct professor in adult literacy.
Speiser has over 15 years of experience
working with individuals and families in reaching their goals of self
sufficiency within workforce development and housing programs. Her
work has ranged from direct practice to program development and grant
management. She's a graduate of Minnesota State University,
Joyce Foundation provides leadership for FastTRAC.
The Joyce Foundation, based on an Iowa family fortune, has
concentrated on development improving the quality of life in states
bordering on the Great Lakes, Mortrude said. The foundation is
currently funding efforts to help workers gain skills and credentials
essential for living-wage jobs. To date Joyce has invested about $1.5
million in Minnesota's FastTRAC program. The state of Minnesota has
invested about $6.8 million, and the United Way, another $600,000.
Goals for program participants help to
narrow the focus.
Mortrude and Speiser emphasized these
Training related to a specific career/job.
Training for jobs that currently are in demand.
Training that results in a job credential, certification and/or
Working primarily with a low-skilled, lower-income,
Integrating education and training is
An essential ingredient in MN FastTRAC,
Mortrude said, is to place skills training such as reading and math in
an occupational context for adults as they work to qualify for high
demand, higher wage jobs. Such skills training is coupled with career
counseling and connecting with support services such as transportation
and child care. To deliver these services, FastTRAC is able to create
public and private partnerships among employers and various education,
training, and career counseling providers.
MN FastTRAC helps about 1,000 adults each
year prepare for living wage jobs.
Job seekers are assigned
counselors who advise them on the type of training they need and where
they should obtain that training. Counselors also help clients obtain
the necessary support services to deal with any life circumstances
that impose obstacles to training. Successful FastTRAC participants
obtain credentials for specific jobs.
MN FastTRAC carries out its work through
contracts with organizations at the community level, using funds
distributed by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic
Community organizations that operate MN
FastTRAC programs include 13 Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs) in
various parts of the state, plus other organizations such as HIRED,
Project for Pride in Living, and Goodwill Easter Seals. Organized
under the U.S. Department of Labor, Minnesota has a statewide WIB, the
Governor's Workforce Development Council as well as community-based
WIBs. These WIBs are part of a network of federal, state, and
local offices that support economic expansion and develop the talent
of the nation's workforce. WIBs develop regional strategic plans and
set funding priorities for their respective areas. State and local
WIBs serve as connectors between the U.S. Department of Labor and more
than 2,500 local American Job Centers that deliver services to both
workers and employers.
The community organizations benefit from
significant participation from potential employers. These community
organizations receive funding from DEED via competitive applications.
The applications cover the types of individuals to be served, the jobs
for which they will be prepared, and subcontractors such as Adult
Basic Education in school districts around the state and the Minnesota
State Colleges and Universities (MNSCU) system.
MN FastTRAC offers specific advantages.
Mortrude and Speiser outlined three advantages of MN FastTRAC over
previous efforts to help low-skilled adult job-seekers:
The availability of counselors who assist participants in all
aspects of job training, seeking, and preparation.
The functional partnerships among workforce centers, employers,
educators, and training organizations.
The active participation of employers who want to assure that
job-seekers will be fully prepared for specific positions that
employers need to fill.
Individuals access MN FastTRAC via many
"No door is the wrong door," Mortrude and
Speiser said. Contact might occur through DEED workforce centers;
Adult Basic Education run by school districts, community or technical
colleges; the Minnesota Literacy Council; or other groups involved in
job-seeker support. Adult Basic Education attracts many low-skilled
adults for whom regular high schooling was not suitable. A high
percentage of participants are people of color and are co-enrolled in
programs of the state Department of Human Services and in Adult Basic
A wide variety of career preparation is
Preparation for health care careers is a big part of
MN FastTRAC offerings, Speiser said, along with training for
construction, transportation, manufacturing, office and other jobs. An
interviewer wondered how large a role MN FastTRAC plays in training
for agriculture occupations. Mortrude replied that in southwest
Minnesota some training is occurring in connection with the bio-fuels
A competitive process stimulates partners to
invest their own dollars, too.
The competitive process that
MN FastTRAC follows in awarding its grants acts as leverage for
employers to put some of their own money into a project, too.
With more funds, MN FastTRAC can serve a broader population. The
Minnesota Legislature appropriated about $3 million in the current
biennium for MN FastTRAC, enabling service to about 2,000 individuals
over the next two years.
The appropriated funds are used to pay for
counselors who work with job-seekers, to help job-seekers pay tuition
at community colleges, and to help job-seekers pay for child care and
About 500,000 persons could use MN FastTRAC
While the program now assists only 2,000 people
over two years, many more people in the state are in need of similar
help. Mortrude estimated that about 500,000 low-skilled adults
throughout Minnesota who have no more than a high school diploma, need
some type of post-secondary education or job credentials.
Emphasis on apprenticeships is noted.
Others are investigating different approaches to the problem. Mortrude
highlighted proposed legislation by State Sen. Terri Bonoff, based on
the apprenticeship model that has been successful in Europe for more
than a century. Bonoff is calling it the PIPELINE Project, which
stands for Private Investment-Public Education Labor Industry
Personal guidance is a key program
Asked whether mentors are assigned to individuals
using MN FastTRAC services, Speiser said that the contrating agencies
all provide counselors who offer personal assistance to each
"Soft skills" are important.
interviewer asked how MN FastTRAC offers training in soft skills such
as cleanliness, promptness, communication, and teamwork are handled.
Speiser replied that Adult Basic Education and MNSCU classes all cover
those skills, as well as the navigator/counselors who work with
Private agencies rooted in the community are
. Mortrude said that respected
organizations such as Project for Pride in Living have worked with MN
FastTRAC. In response to a question she said that FastTRAC has had no
relationship to date with Twin Cities RISE!.
FastTRAC does not work with temporary
An interviewer noted that private
temporary employment agencies have contracts with major employers.
Often a person is hired through such agencies for a temporary job with
a major employer. After a few months the employer will decide whether
to offer full-time employment, based on an individual's performance as
a temporary employee. Speiser said MN FastTRAC does not have a
relationship with the temporary agencies.
Employers are actively involved.
Responding to a question, Speiser stressed that employers work very
closely with education/trainers to make sure occupation-related
training is included.
Some employers also invest in on-going
employee education. She mentioned a professional development
assistance program that Mayo Clinic offers to its employees, with up
to $7,200 per calendar year for graduate credits and up to $4,320 per
calendar year for undergraduate credits.
Good outcomes for MN FastTRAC participants
Speiser used a factsheet that was distributed
to illustrate the program's outcomes:
In 2013, DEED awarded grants to 17 career pathway partnerships
to enhance existing pathway programs or develop programming in new
In 2014, DEED awarded grants to 18 career pathway partnerships,
expanding into new occupational sectors, target populations, and
of Adult Basic Education students moving into Minnesota State
Colleges and Universities. Key MN FastTRAC findings include:
60.9% of MN FastTRAC Bridge students enrolled in MnSCU during
or within one year compared to 15.6% of ABE Non-MN FastTRAC ABE
students enrolled in MnSCU.
59.9% of MN FastTRAC students enrolled in credit courses
during or within one year compared to 13.5% of ABE Non-MN FastTRAC
(69.7% vs. 15.6% when including non-credit) enrolled in credit
courses during or within one year.
69.4% of MN FastTRAC students bypassed developmental
education, whereas just 39% of ABE Non-MN FastTRAC credit-taking
students did so.
In the past four years, MN FastTRAC programs have served over
3,000 individuals, with an 88% completion rate of college credit
and/or credential and a 69% achievement of continued career pathway
education and/or employment.
MN FastTRAC participants have seen an average wage increase of
11% one year after enrollment, for those employed prior to
enrollment and an average annualized wage $16,000 one year after
enrollment, for those unemployed prior to enrollment.
Since 2010, 44 MN FastTRAC programs have become operationalized
in all 18 Workforce Service Areas and on 29 of the 47 MnSCU
Since 2010, approximately 90% of Minnesota's Adult Basic
Education service delivery consortia have created career pathway
programming with MN FastTRAC funding.
Does Minnesota have an overall
occupational-related strategy for nontraditional students?
was noted in discussion that MN FastTRAC produces very significant
results for a limited number of persons. It's not clear whether the
state has a strategy for other low-skilled potential nontraditional
students not reached by MN FastTRAC. Nor is there any measurement on
how well the state is doing overall in reducing the magnitude of the
Partnerships among employers, educators, and trainers are the
result of deliberate outreach efforts. Responding to a
question, Mortrude said MN FastTRAC specifically asks for partnerships
in contacts with employers, educators, workforce development and
community organizations. The partnerships develop because the applying
entities know that they will have a better chance receiving MN
FastTRAC contracts when partnerships are included as an integral part
of their applications.
More comprehensive financing information would help to assess
training efforts. An interviewer asked whether it is possible
to assemble information on the total investment being made annually in
Minnesota on helping to retrain adults with nontraditional educational
backgrounds. Mortrude and Speiser said they'd try to put some of that
information together. It appears that on average there's an
investment of about $2,500 in each individual served by MN FastTRAC.
Federal involvement is growing. Mortrude and Speiser
noted that President Barack Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and
Opportunity Act on July 22, 2014. The law is designed to help job
seekers access employment, education, training, and support services
to succeed in the labor market and to match employers with the skilled
workers they need. This law requires that states meet certain
objectives to be eligible for the federal dollars provided for such
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), 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