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The new face of manufacturing: How a small community is retooling to attract a skilled workforce

October 1, 2019

To inspire students in Hutchinson, Minnesota to join the workforce, 3M is working on a $1.2 million project to educate students about manufacturing – a first of its kind effort in the state.

aerial flyover of 3M factory

Building tomorrow’s workforce

When Jordan Twardy first stepped foot inside 3M’s Hutchinson manufacturing facility, he had no idea what to expect. “Seeing all the robots and the way things get made, it was so cool,” he says. The recent high school grad always had a knack for fixing things and getting his hands dirty, though these days manufacturing work is much cleaner than you might think. He knows that robots are capable of a lot, but he stresses that, first, they need people like him to tell them what we want them to do and to troubleshoot problems. That hands-on work is what excites Jordan.

football player in Hutchinson

To inspire other students like Jordan, the city of Hutchinson, Minnesota, is working on a $1.2 million project to educate students about manufacturing – a first of its kind effort in the state.

A native of Hutchinson, Jordan grew up with several manufacturing plants right in his own backyard. “My dad works for a company that makes the boxes for 3M, so I’ve known about them since I was a kid,” he explains. He’s begin studying automation and robotics systems technology at Ridgewater College in his hometown.

Like other classmates, Jordan considered the type of career he wanted to pursue and whether that meant leaving home. Communities like Hutchinson heavily depend on retaining its workforce to fill open skilled-labor positions. Miles Seppelt, who serves as the economic development director for the city of Hutchinson, knows all too well about the shortages faced by many businesses in his community. “The jobs are there,” says Miles. “We just can’t find the bodies to fill these positions.” In the summer of 2015, there were 35-45 job openings that local manufacturers couldn’t fill due to the shortage of skilled workers, according the Hutchinson Economic Development Authority.

Initiative numbers 3M

A Harvard University study predicts that by 2018, 33 percent of U.S. jobs will require a B.A. or higher, 57 percent will require some form of credentialed training or associate’s degree, and 10 percent will be unskilled jobs.

In the U.S. economy, for every one job requiring a master’s degree or higher, two jobs require a bachelor’s degree, and seven jobs require a 1-year certificate or 2-year degree.

3m hutchinson tigerbot

This ongoing challenge sparked a dialogue among businesses, educators and the government. They looked to Hutchinson High School as an untapped resource for new skilled workers to build a talent pipeline from school to local industry. Community leaders felt it was a great solution, because many students there already get hands-on classroom training in welding and mechatronics – the combination of electronics and mechanical engineering. They’ve even built their own Tigerbot, named for their school mascot, to face-off against other students in the FIRST Robotics Competition.

Daryl Lundin, a technology teacher at the high school, says students get basic real-life skills that they’ll need when they enter a two-year vocational college or even a four-year college. “It gives them a better understanding of what they’re going to be doing in college,” Daryl says. However, the community saw a need for more powerful curricula, better equipment and overall development of its workforce.

3M advanced manufacturing & academic partnership plaque

The proposal

A three-year initiative – developed by 21 local businesses, Hutchinson High School, Ridgewater College and the Hutchinson Economic Development Authority – aims to create a sustainable talent pipeline for advanced manufacturing. At the high school, students are building and operating a manufacturing business, making the connection to what they’re learning in the classroom by producing products for real customers. The project also helps fund professional development for teachers and provides scholarships for students.

3Mgives is donating $600,000 to help fund the project. “3Mgives invests in programs like the Hutch Initiative not only to develop a diverse talent pipeline for 3M communities,” says Matt Ladhoff with 3Mgives, “but to raise interest, awareness and exposure to relevant career opportunities that students can benefit from in their own communities.” It’s a sentiment echoed by those who work with students every day.

“This is a very important thing for our students, knowing that we have a business community that supports their education and that is interested enough to pursue corporate contributions that will prepare them for the best reality.”

Patrick Walsh, Principal, Hutchinson High School
Man standing in front of machinery

A professor’s perspective

Bob Lea shares Jordan’s passion for the technical field and working with his hands. He spent 20 years working on electronics repair in the United States Air Force before his career brought him to Hutchinson. Today, he spends his time working with students of all ages who share that passion. He teaches automation and robotics systems technology at Ridgewater College.

As you step into Bob’s classroom, you’re captivated by the array of gadgets, lights and technology right at your fingertips. Bob’s students focus heavily on creating projects, often using donated materials. “As machines get more and more connected, we need people that can look at that machine and say, ‘There’s a problem here, or is it further upstream or downstream?’” Many of his former students are now employees at 3M Hutchinson.

Man with 3m badge smiling

The plant started manufacturing Scotch Brand Cellophane Tape in 1947. Seven decades later, 3M Hutchinson employees make Scotch Magic Tape, ScotchBlue Painter’s Tape, air filtration products, multiple films and more. 3M Hutchinson is the city’s largest employer, with more than 1,700 workers in the town of 14,000.

Joe Nelson, the plant engineering manager, knows the importance of investing in a skilled workforce. “The people we recruit, the people in the group – we speak a common language,” he says. “That’s exciting for me coming to work each day and doing what we do to keep this facility running and make what we make for 3M.”

“There’s a pride that our company is stepping forward and supporting this. We want to see this become the template for communities and facilities like ours to be able to replicate to fill that pipeline.”

Joe Nelson, Plant Engineer Manager, 3M Hutchinson

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