Local Workforce Development Center Back in Full Force

By ANNIE GRANLUND / Owatonna Peoples Press / southernminn.com / annie.granlund@apgsomn.com / Dec 7, 2021

It has been more than three years since Owatonna has had a local workforce development office, making it difficult to connect people who are unemployed or looking for a career change with the many local opportunities throughout the area.

That all changed this October when the Workforce Development Center reopened in a new location. Though the center has been helping individuals for nearly two months, it wasn’t until last week that they were back in “full force,” according to the Area Manager Mike Postma.

“Opening up again for appointments has really kept our career planner busy,” said Postma. “We have had less foot traffic, as far as people just dropping in, but we haven’t really been advertising that option, because we weren’t all set up yet inside. We spread the word with some of our local partners, but we wanted to kind of open slowly so we weren’t hit hard all at once.”

For the local business community, though, the reopening of the office is something to be celebrated.

When the center first closed in April 2018, the administrative team made it clear that it was due to a reduction in public resources, not a drop in demand. While the focus of the centers throughout the state had shifted from unemployed people to under-employed people, the centers continue to see an increase interest in work-based training, apprenticeships, internships and mentorships.

During the last year, the center was open at Riverland College in Owatonna, 464 individuals enrolled in the program to receive a variety of services. The number reflects those who had enrolled in the Dislocated Worker program, the Steele County Out of School Youth program, the Steele County In-School Youth program, and the job club attendees.

This number, however, does not include walk in customers who used the resource area, met with a counselor, inquired about job postings, and a variety of other in-person services.

Brad Meier, president of the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism who was one of the biggest advocates in securing state funding to reopen a local center, said he heard first hand how missed the local office was in town.

“What we continued to hear from people is that if they wanted to access the resources they had to go up to Faribault, which isn’t the end of the world, but it definitely less convenient,” Meier said. “Often times, transportation is already a hurdle for them, so if you have to drive somewhere to get that resource then we have a problem.”

Moving across town

The center’s new location is on Austin Road on the south side of town, which Postma said they are ecstatic about the location. Not only is it easily accessible, with ample parking and along the bus route, but the office is located inside the same building that houses the United Way of Steele County.

“We already partner with them for other things,” Postma said. “Now we are right in the same building, we are just the next office over.”
Meier said the two organizations becoming neighbors makes sense for a number of reasons, but especially because of the crossover that tends to happen among the people both agencies serve.

“The United Way already works with a lot of nonprofits that are here to service people who may need just a hand up to help them move forward,” he said. “That is a great fit for who our Workforce Development Center will help, as well.”

A bright future
Postma said he sees nothing but good things in the future for the workforce in Owatonna now that important resources are once again within everyone’s reach.

“My hope and what I see as the future for us is that we really form partnerships between our organization and the folks looking for the opportunities, as well as the business and education partners who have them,” he said. “It sounds so simple, but sometimes people have a hard time making those connections, even if they know what they’re looking for. We can help make those matches.”

Though the center will often work with people who find themselves unemployed, Postma strongly suggests that anyone living in the Owatonna area consider taking full advantage of all the center has to offer.

“In my lifetime of doing this work, there has never been a better time to be a job seeker,” Postma said. “The opportunities, pay, flexibility is all available and in your favor, so if you haven’t reconsidered your career path in awhile, not is a great time to do so and to stop in.”

The Workforce Development Center has relocated to 1850 Austin Road, Suite 102, in Owatonna.
Hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Call 507-333-2088 to make an appointment.
Walk-in hours are available on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

WDI Success Story: Kelli

Kelli has been a client of Workforce Development, Inc. since 2015. She has been using county benefits while working on applying for social security disability. Over the years she has attempted to work several jobs, but was never able to maintain them either due to her scheduling needs or the demands they put on her physically and mentally. Kelli thrived on routine and when COVID-19 hit, many of her regular services and appointments were disrupted. At first it was devastating and Kelli struggled to go on day to day.

One day, her son, who successfully participated in WDI’s youth programming, suggested she apply as a bus aid for the company he works for. Kelli decided to try. The odd hours (mornings and afternoons) fit well with her schedule and she soon learned she thrived working with the younger kids. The bus company has been very flexible and structures her routes around her physical and mental health services so she can continue to stay healthy. They have also discussed with her additional training so she can drive the vans as well as work as an aid. She has maintained her employment since September 2020.

What started as a sub position has lead to a permanent spot as an aide on the bus for 3-4 year-olds and special education students. Kelli says “I love it and can get those kiddos laughing like crazy!”

WDI Success Story: From COVID to CLIMB: A Self-Employment Success Story

Tracy Bjerke of Owatonna had been working as a registered dietician at Hy-Vee when she was laid off in early 2020 at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Tracy had been working at Hy-Vee for a little over 7 years before she was laid off, so to say that the news of losing her job came as a shock would be an understatement. However, Tracy took this news as an opportunity to reflect on where she wanted to take her career and how she could use her knowledge and expertise in nutrition and wellness to improve the lives of the members of her community.

Tracy decided that she would dive head-first into starting her own intuitive eating and nutrition counseling business. Her goal would be to help individuals cultivate a healthy relationship with food, mind, and body and help clients heal their relationships with food. Tracy learned about Workforce Development and how they could help individuals who had recently been laid off from their job. Tracy was connected with a Career Planner who introduced her to the Converting Layoffs Into Minnesota Businesses (CLIMB) program designed to help entrepreneurs in Minnesota start their own business.

Now, almost one year after enrolling in the CLIMB program through Workforce Development, Tracy has launched her own private practice, Bjerke Nutrition and Wellness, LLC. Tracy hit the ground running – networking in her local community, presenting to local Rotary chapters, attending Owatonna Business Women’s presentations, and even starting a monthly segment on KOWZ radio to spread the word about her services. Her success quickly became recognized in the community and Tracy’s story was featured on an ABC 6 News story about finding career success amid the pandemic. You can view Tracy’s story here: Southeast Minnesota non-profit connects people with new jobs | KAALTV.com

“Workforce Development has been a valuable resource for me as I have navigated starting my private practice,” Bjerke told her Career Planner at Workforce Development. While starting a business in the middle of a pandemic is no easy feat, Tracy is optimistic about the opportunities coming her way: “I am really hopeful about the future of my business but know it will take time. I am saying yes to every opportunity I can afford!”

To learn more about Tracy’s business, Bjerke Nutrition and Wellness, LLC, visit her website at: https://bjerkenutritionandwellness.com/.

Submitted by Cassie Wessing, Dislocated Worker Career Planner

WDI Success Story: Meijin

My name is Meijin Wang, and I am from China. I’ve lived in Rochester, Minnesota since 2006. When I arrived, I discovered the freezing weather they have here in Rochester, and its long six-month winter. My English was limited, so I started to work as a kitchen helper at a Chinese restaurant. I worked 12 hours every day, no regular holidays and weekend schedule. For the first five years, I have three children, two boys and a girl. We live in a three generation household: my kids, me and my husband, and their grandparents. My kids spent most of their time with their grandparents and they rarely spent time with me due to my working shifts. When I get home from work, it would usually be passed 11 o’clock. I felt that I didn’t spend enough time with my kids. So I told myself that I wanted to live a normal life with my children: having dinner together, spending time over the weekends and holidays, doing what most parents do with their kids.

When my youngest daughter started kindergarten, I went to Hawthorne Adult Learning Center to improve my English. There, I took some reading and writing classes to improve my second language: English. Most students at the learning center were also immigrants from different countries, and have very limited English. Because of this, we couldn’t find a professional job. Hawthorne provides a variety of classes to help their students reach their school goal for example, getting a GED, a post-secondary certification. During school, my friends all talk about the world-famous Mayo Clinic and how great of a hospital it is. Someday, I want  my children to proudly say, “My mom works at Mayo Clinic.”  So, I started to formulate a dream, a dream that is, working at Mayo.

I still remembered one of my reading teachers. I remember telling him that I wasn’t sure how many years it would take for me to study and find a job at Mayo since I was still struggling with language barriers. I am a mom of three children that works a full-time job at a restaurant. However, he told me that everyone turns 40 and each person has a different journey to his/her own destination.  It’s never too late to start something and get closer to your destination. He said, “When you recall your life when you’re 40, you will not regret that step you made.”  I started to take one or two classes first. Through this, I learned how to use my free time wisely. Like studying while waiting for my children’s afterschool activities are done, listening to lecture recordings while driving, and asking for help when I needed it. I tried to do my best to balance my school life and family life.

I enrolled in a program called “Bridges to College and Careers-bridges to healthcare”. This program collaborates with Hawthorne education, Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC), workforce development, and Mayo clinic. This program provides the courses and support the immigrant needs to successfully make a transition from adult learning education to post-secondary certifications and degrees in healthcare. I took the Clinical Nurse Aid (CNA) class and got my license at 2015. I started working as a CNA at a nursing home and at the same time, I transferred to RCTC, and obtained Advanced Hospital Nursing Assistant license with high honor. After that, I took pre-require classes to prepare to enter the nursing program and got accepted by the RCTC nursing program with GPA 4.0 at 2018. This year, I graduated the Associate Degree Nursing program at RCTC with Honors GPA., and I passed my NCLEX-RN exam in July.

I was so thankful for enrolling in the bridge program; I met so many great people during this bridge program, helping me to reach my dreams. The bridge program went through everything these few years. It not only helped me start a new career, but it also built a strong foundation to support my dream job. I was helped with college class registrations, planning, books, tuition help, and job preparation. I had my first interview and got the nurse offer at Mayo Clinic. My first start day is 10/26.  I am more than happy to provide care towards patients in a hospital setting, and to put my education into action.

After so many years put into learning, I wanted to share my journey to the students of Hawthorne. To the people who seek help to improve their future; do not be afraid to have a big dream. But if you think the dream is too big for you, just start with a smaller step, and you will reach your dream someday. Here is where my dream started, and it can be where yours starts too.

PRESS RELEASE: Program that Focuses on Training Women, People of Color and Veterans for Careers in the Union Building and Construction Trades Expanding to Southeastern Minnesota

For Immediate Release                                                         

December 1, 2021   

Contact: Jenn Hathaway

Phone: 612.816.1710                                                                                     

Building Strong Communities, a Program that Focuses on Training Women, People of Color and Veterans for Careers in the Union and Construction Trades is Coming to Southeastern Minnesota

Rochester (December 1, 2021) – Building Strong Communities, a multi-trade, building and construction trades apprenticeship readiness program has recently expanded to become the first statewide apprenticeship readiness program designed to recruit and prepare women, people of color and veterans for a career in the building and construction industry. As part of the Building Strong Communities expansion statewide, BSC will begin programming in southeastern Minnesota in 2022.

Building Strong Communities is a program that prepares participants for a career in the construction industry by providing access to union endorsed training and an opportunity for participants to gain real experience and exposure to union building and construction trades. Training and online classes will be hosted by North Hennepin Community College.

“We are very excited to bring the Building Strong Communities program to southeastern Minnesota,” said Joe Fowler, President of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades. “Building Strong Communities is a unique program that recruits women, people of color and veterans into building and construction trades with the goal of identifying a trade that participants can turn into a life-long career.”

“As we move into 2022 and the years ahead, the City of Rochester Public Works Department plans to build and maintain a diverse workforce,” states Director of Public Works Wendy Turri. “The expansion of the Building Strong Communities program into southeastern Minnesota is a promising step toward increasing the number of trained women, people of color and veterans for construction trades careers and positions with the City of Rochester Public Works Department.”

“Building Strong Communities is a complete introduction to the building and construction trades, it really opened my eyes to different opportunities,” said Edgar Chavira Rios, a member of the 2021 Building Strong Communities cohort. “After graduation from the BSC program, I was fully prepared for a career in the building and construction industry. I am now a member of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades and have a career as a dry wall finisher.”

Jinny Rietmann, Executive Director of Workforce Development, Inc. shared, “Workforce Development, Inc. is excited to partner with Building Strong Communities. We look forward to bringing additional trades and construction training opportunities to individuals in Southeast Minnesota as this will not only address workforce challenges but will also increase diversity in this key industry sector.”

Building Strong Communities, formerly a partnership between Minneapolis Building and Construction Trades Council and the Metropolitan Council, is now a statewide program run by the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades. BSC has been run successfully in both the Twin Cities and Duluth.

WDI Success Story: Alex

Alex is a young man who email questions about the Pathways to Prosperity grant, specifically the Accelerated Welding class. His probation officer had given him the information and he was interested and wanted to know if he qualified for grant money. He was currently working as a chef in a local bar/restaurant.

We met and after talking about all the programs he decided that he was interested in the Computer Numerical Control (CNC) class instead.

Alex finished the Accelerated Welding class at MSC-Southeast Winona and had a job at Fastenal in Winona before he graduated. He will continue to go to school for CNC at Minnesota State College-Southeast Winona in a 2-year program, while working at Fastenal. They will reimburse him when he completes the semesters. Alex started work in March and has already been promoted at Fastenal.

This was a thank you note from Alex at the end of his class.

“I just wanted to say thank you for all the help and support I got from the Wabasha Workforce Development, Inc. office. I got the opportunity to take the CNC class and open the doors to a future in a CNC career. Right away I got a job at Fastenal and you continued to show me support and made sure that I had everything I need for work. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for in a job and you helped me find the perfect fit.” – Alex

I contacted him recently and asked if he would sign a release and if he would be OK with having a picture and his journey published. He signed the release, sent a picture, and this was his response: “Let me know if there is any other way I can help. I really appreciate everything you guys have done for me. I would love for the grant to continue so you can help as many people as possible. Hopefully they will all make the best of it. If there is anything more that I can do, I would love to help.”

Submitted by Kim Buysse, Career Navigator


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