How the Manufacturing Industry in Fergus Falls is Fostering Tomorrow’s Workforce
With a new generation of workers set to take the place of baby boomers, it’s more important than ever to prepare the future workforce. Our team at Greater Fergus Falls recognizes that it is our responsibility to help tomorrow’s workforce hone their skills and develop their work ethic — and we’re not alone. Many of the business leaders in our community agree and are creating unique opportunities to do just that.
In the first part of this three-part series, we shared how the Fergus Falls healthcare industry supports the future workforce through on-site training programs. The blog highlighted LB Homes’ Nursing Assistant Training Program, discussing how they give students hands-on experience as they complete their CNA certification and other schooling. Now, we want to share insight into the workforce training opportunities for skilled labor industries in our community. More specifically, manufacturing and welding. Scroll below to get the details!
Minnesota Has Roots in the Manufacturing Industry
The land of 10,000 lakes has had a strong presence in the manufacturing industry for years and consists of more than 6,500 companies, including big names like Cargill, Medtronic, and 3M. According to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), manufacturing accounts for 14.3% of the state’s total economic output, producing a whopping $52.65 billion in 2018. What’s more, 10.82% of Minnesota’s workforce is employed by manufacturers with 321,000 individuals working in various sectors, such as welding and other metal manufacturing.
While a good chunk of our workforce is employed in a range of manufacturing fields, the industry has been experiencing a workforce shortage for some time. As baby boomers continue to enter retirement, the need for skilled laborers continues to grow. From CNC machinists to assemblers and fabricators, there is a wide range of positions available. As time goes on, many of those positions will be available in the welding sector. A report by the American Welding Society (AWS) estimates there will be a national shortage of 327,000 welders by 2026. Aura Fabricators, a local manufacturing company, is making it a priority to introduce manufacturing opportunities to the future workforce.
Aura Fabricators Partners with Local Educators to Support Students Interested in the Manufacturing Industry
With locations in Dalton and Fergus Falls, Minnesota, Aura Fabricators primarily serves the DOT markets with miscellaneous and structural metal fabrication. Owner and Greater Fergus Falls Board member, Jasmine Sonmor, believes “we have a responsibility as industry leaders to bridge the gap that currently exists in the workforce. We must do so by investing in our youth and exposing them to the awesome career potential that exists in the trades. By exposing young children and teens to the exciting world of STEM, we can pique their interest in innovation and the gratifying work of careers that have tangible results they can physically see and make come to life.”
Sonmor’s passion for STEM has led her to serve as the Industry Board Chair of the Manufacturing Advisory Board at Fergus Falls High School. Her position on the board has allowed her to maintain an active role in setting both short and long-term academic goals, whether it’s helping to develop future curriculums, assisting with the financial planning of resources, or donating materials to the school’s STEM program.
Fostering Tomorrow’s Workforce Through On the Job Training
While Aura Fabricators doesn’t currently offer a specific training program for students interested in manufacturing, the company is more than happy to help them get real-life experience. “Whether they’re an intern or just a student who wants a good-paying summer job, we do our best to ensure they receive a well-rounded and educational experience during their time with us,” Sonmor notes. Aura Fabricators also recognizes that every employee has different skills and interests, making it a point to “[play] to their strengths” so they can succeed.
Recent high school graduate, Noah Johnson, began working at Aura Fabricators in May of 2020. He was looking for a summer job, and since his dad works for the company as a production manufacturer, it seemed like a perfect fit. Prior to starting with the business, Johnson’s dad taught him how to weld. Working at Aura Fabricators allowed him to refine his skill while also learning new ones.
Johnson’s desire to learn has been an asset during his time with the company, and it's one that Sonmor and her team want to continue to develop. Over the last few months, they’ve provided on the job training in a range of Aura Fabricators' operations, from working with the saws and plasma torches to practicing attention to detail in shipping and receiving. Gaining experience in the different areas of manufacturing is something Johnson appreciates. He likes that every day is different because it makes him think and keeps him engaged.
On-site training introduces the future workforce to new experiences and contributes significantly to their success, both in and out of the trades. “Hands-on experiences help students apply real-world skills and knowledge to their studies. It makes the schoolwork that much easier to grasp because they’re able to draw from actual experiences versus only thinking about them theoretically.” Sonmor goes on to explain that “these experiences set the stage for what’s expected of them when they enter the workforce. It’s amazing how a person can excel so much more when they prove to be a dependable and hard worker; the rest of the training and personal growth comes easy. With workforce shortages in the trades, companies notice quality work ethic and capitalize on them.”
Introducing Students to Unconventional Routes After Graduating High School
It’s safe to say our society has greatly influenced a student’s path after high school. It has been widely considered that the only way to succeed was to go to college and get a four-year degree before settling into a high paying job. But, what was once the norm has fallen by the wayside. Educators and industry leaders alike have begun to realize everyone’s path after high school is different, and going the traditional route doesn’t guarantee success.
The unfortunate truth is students graduating with an undergraduate degree (or higher) often struggle to find a job in their desired field. To make matters worse, they find themselves saddled with overwhelming amounts of student loan debt. That’s why it’s more important than ever to make students aware of alternative paths and opportunities, such as working in the trades.
Considering an unconventional career path after high school opens up new doors and avenues for students, allowing them to choose the right for them. Johnson, who is planning to continue working at Aura Fabricators while pursuing a degree in Mechanical Drafting, Design, and Engineering Technology at Alexandria Tech this fall, agrees. “Trades are a great career option because they will always be needed. Too many people think they need a four-year degree to get a good job, but if a four-year school isn’t for you, a trade job would probably be great,” he says. Sonmor also stresses that trade jobs aren’t just about skilled labor, suggesting, “There’s truly a position for everyone.” Those opportunities include careers in an office setting, such as mechanical drafting.
Although there’s no telling what the full extent of the pandemic will be on our economy or its impact on the future workforce, one thing is for sure; Greater Fergus Falls is proud to be part of a community committed to fostering tomorrow’s workforce. Keep an eye out for part two of this three-part series, which will be released in October — and if you missed part one, check it out here. Special thanks to Noah Johnson, Jasmine Sonmor, and Aura Fabricators for sharing their story with the Greater Fergus Falls team!