The construction industry represents one of the largest growing segments of the Minnesota economy. One of the biggest obstacles that is standing in its way is a serious workforce shortage.
Rep. Barb Haley has an extensive background in addressing workforce challenges. She currently sits on the Education Innovation Policy and Higher Education and Career Readiness Policy and Finance committees in the Minnesota House of Representatives.
Q: What are some of the biggest workforce obstacles facing the state?
Rep. Haley: First of all, the demographic impact of aging and retiring baby-boomers and fewer young people will be with us for decades. We have low unemployment and slow labor force growth. We face a persistent achievement gap and low graduation rates among our immigrant and minority populations. And, the education and skill requirements in our industries are rapidly changing. We have the perfect storm of a people shortage and a skills gap in a changing economy.
Q: What did the legislature accomplish last session to address these issues?
Rep. Haley: We coupled our tax policy, higher education investments and K12 policy to begin to address these challenges. We passed a ‘first in the nation’ tax credit for student loan debt to entice new graduates to come work in our state. We supported the education of our future workforce by investing in our post-secondary institutions, by offering tax incentives for families who are saving for college expenses, and by providing scholarships for students going into high demand fields such as agriculture, advanced manufacturing, IT and healthcare. In the area of K12 policy, we revamped our teacher licensing system to allow for community experts to support classroom instruction in needed subjects like career and technical education.
Q: What are you planning for this upcoming session?
Rep. Haley: I have lots of ideas brewing! I firmly believe that we need to have a focused and aligned strategy to address our workforce shortage and our skills gap. This will require lots of conversations between our business, education and policy leaders. I’d like to see incentives for school districts to hire career and post-secondary counselors who have experience in the marketplace and could advise students about in-demand fields like the trades. I want to work on expanding the Youth Skills Training program (that was a result of legislation chief authored by Rep. Jason Rarick) and getting the V-PSEO bill passed. (Rep. Jim Nash is the chief author.) I am passionate about connecting education and industry and giving students opportunities for hands-on learning and skill development.
Q: Are there any industries in particular that are currently facing the greatest pinch?
Rep. Haley: All industries will face the labor shortage challenge, but the most in-demand fields in our state who are feeling the greatest pinch are construction and the trades – with highest demand in welding and machining; IT; healthcare – particularly in home care for the disabled and seniors, and advanced manufacturing.
Q: How does Minnesota compete with other states for labor?
Rep. Haley: Minnesota not only competes with neighboring states for labor, but we compete nationally and globally. Today’s workforce is highly mobile and, with technology, people can now live where they choose and don’t necessarily make a work decision based on a company’s location. We compete based on our educational system, our tax structure, our availability of housing, and other factors such as energy and health insurance costs. We are known for the quality and education level of our workforce and for having a history of innovation.