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IQ Magazine

FA L L 0 9

Contents 14


ABOUT THE COVER: Nearly 217,000 Minnesotans are sailing the stormy waters of unemployment. Illustration by Andrea Baumann.


Unlock the power of central Minnesota people to build and sustain healthy communities. INITIATIVE FOUNDATION GOALS:




F E AT U R E S 14

–Strengthen Economic Opportunity –Preserve Key Places and Natural Resources –Support Children, Youth, and Families –Build Organizational Effectiveness –Encourage the Spirit of Giving

D E PA R T M E N T S 4

Kathy’s Note Deliverance


IQ Points Your Two-Minute Digest


Workforce Mythology Let’s Dive into the Water Cooler Propaganda . . .


Re-Branded For Young Workers, CareerOne Program Offers Crash Course in Core Skills


New Home Economics Immigrant Job-Seekers Face More than Recession


Keynotes The Initiative Foundation Newsletter


Seniority Rules Displaced Boomers Face Rougher Road to Reemployment


Brainiac An IQ&A with Kathy Zavala


Workforce U Delivers Skilled Workers Program Raises Standard on Preparing Workforce


Cover Story: Adrift Navigating the Economy of Joblessness

20 24

The Deepest Cuts How to Deliver Bad News to Good People

Pointing Up The Stars are Aligned for Three Industries. Are Jobs on the Horizon?




Where to Begin (Again)

Jobless Find New Professions within Themselves

Workforce Centers Reveal Paths to Reemployment


Everyone at Lakewood Health System is proud of your achievement. The culture here is a living, breathing example of your belief in teamwork and the investment you place in people. Your commitment to community is one-in-a-million. “Minnesota Rural Health Hero”, a fitting title as your leadership goes beyond healthcare and even the community of Staples. We are proud to have you lead the way...thank you.

Minnesota’s Rural Health Hero Award recognizes outstanding individuals who have made a significant contribution toward improving the healthcare of rural Minnesotans.

HEALTH HERO AWARD RECIPIENT” “MINNESOTA’S 2009 RURAL —Recognized at the Minnesota Rural Health Conference



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Kathy’s Note

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Dear Friends, It was just after midnight and few degrees above zero last February 26. If you would have asked me where I thought I’d be that night, my last guess would have been in a backseat of a car, parked under a dim streetlight at Walgreen’s in Minneapolis, and about to deliver a baby. My friend, Steve, and I had just finished losing a Scrabble game to his very pregnant wife, Heidi. After a bedtime bath, her contractions came out of nowhere. It was a 40-minute drive to the hospital, and between the painful cries and irresistible urges to push, it became clear to me that we weren’t going to make it. Now, I’ve been around a few deliveries, but I’m no midwife. So, what would you do? I draw the parallel between this unplanned crisis and those of displaced workers throughout Minnesota and the U.S. One minute you’re planning for double-word scores, the next minute you’re facing a challenge that you couldn’t have possibly imagined. The course of action is the same. You respond. You draw on past experience, navigate the dangerous waters, and hopefully find some help along the way. In the case of unemployment, the cavalry is led by our IQ publishing partner, the Stearns-Benton Employment & Training Council (see page 14), and the Minnesota WorkForce Centers around the state. In this issue, we also profile three emerging industries—healthcare, renewable energy, and technology—that hold the promise of future jobs for our region. We trust that this IQ issue will inspire renewed hope for economic recovery, as well as reveal the incredible sacrifices and triumphs of nearly 32,000 displaced workers in central Minnesota. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the emergency personnel did arrive just in time to help with the back-seat delivery of Berlin Zaelie Mae. Her birth certificate says she was born at the hospital, but we know the real story. Enjoy the magazine!

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4 Initiative Quarterly Magazine

Kathy Gaalswyk, President Initiative Foundation

Initiative Quarterly Magazine

Volume 7, Fall 2009 INITIATIVE FOUNDATION Executive Editor & Director of Communications | Matt Kilian Grants & Communications Specialist | Anita Hollenhorst PUBLISHERS Evergreen Press | Chip & Jean Borkenhagen EDITORIAL Editorial Director | Jodi Schwen Managing Editor | Tenlee Lund Staff Writer | Dawn Zimmerman Staff Writer | Sarah Colburn ART Art Director | Andrea Baumann Senior Graphic Designer | Bob Wallenius Graphic Designer | Brad Raymond Design Intern | Nate Schimelpfenig Production Manager | Bryan Petersen Lead Photographer | John Linn

IQ EDITORIAL BOARD Initiative Foundation President | Kathy Gaalswyk Goldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;n Plump | Peggy Brown ING Direct | Cory Donat Initiative Foundation | Paul Kleinwachter Express Employment Professionals | Jill Magelssen Rural MN Concentrated Employment Program | Craig Nathan Initiative Foundation | Randy Olson Viking Coca-Cola | Julie Schmitz Initiative Foundation | Sandy Voigt Stearns Benton Employment & Training Council | Kathy Zavala

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Intelligence H In Minnesota, about 217,000 displaced workers are competing for only 31,000 unfilled jobs. H

There are more than 12 potential job applicants for every central Minnesota vacancy.




With more than 109,000 Minnesota jobs lost in manufacturing, construction, and professional services alone, a full recovery may take several more years.

“ Quotations” “This is a transformational economy. The best jobs today are knowledgebased, and knowledge is constantly changing. You have to learn how to learn and keep learning in order to stay competitive in the job market.”

About 25 percent of American workers have postponed their retirements in the past year. Most regional colleges reported enrollment increases of 5 to 10 percent during the 2009 fall semester.


Many in-demand careers require oldfashioned “soft skills” as well as science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills.

we failed. We don’t take it lightly.” –Steve Michael, Dura Supreme

“Most of the people who come through our doors want to quickly find another job like the one they just lost. Unfortunately, that’s not an option for many of them.”

“There is hope. (Businesses) aren’t just sitting and waiting for things to turn around—they’re moving forward toward brighter times ahead.”

–Kathy Zavala, Stearns-Benton Employment & Training Council

–Tim Zipoy, Central Minnesota Jobs & Training Services

Trends suggest that healthcare, technology, and renewable energy are emerging industries in central Minnesota.

“We’re constantly surveying the business landscape to meet “I’m not afraid to tell people that we regional workforce needs. The challenge, let them down. They’ve lived up to in the words of hockey great Gordie their end of the bargain . . . it’s our job Howe, is skating to where the puck is as managers to figure out how to grow going to be, not where it is.” the company. Unfortunately, this time

–Kathy Gaalswyk, Initiative Foundation

6 Initiative Quarterly Magazine


–Dr. Earl Potter, St. Cloud State University







Chris McAllister

Workforce Mythology Let’s Dive into the Water Cooler Propaganda . . . By Sarah Colburn

> Myth: Nobody but nobody is hiring anybody. > Reality-Check: A barren Classifieds section doesn’t always equate to a barren job market. A central Minnesota medical employer recently attracted more than 400 job applicants to a job posting for a $12-per-hour record-keeper. Such a stampede poses major problems for an HR department, which must sift through all of those resumes, said Linda Fischer, career planner with the Stearns-Benton Employment & Training Council. Rather than face the tidal wave of unqualified or over-qualified applicants, many companies are posting jobs discretely through professional networking groups and depending on old-fashioned referrals. “Networking is probably their greatest asset,” Fischer said. Job-seekers who participate in job clubs, professional associations, and social networking groups are finding contacts and openings, she added. Even if an opening isn’t immediate, job-seekers can get a leg up on the competition by scheduling informational interviews at their company of interest. In addition, some businesses have volunteer opportunities available to help get a foot in the door. > Myth: Just go find another job like the one you lost. There are lots of fish in the sea. > Reality-Check: For many, navigating the post-recession waters requires heading back to the classroom. After months of inertia, many of central Minnesota’s displaced manufacturing and construction workers abandoned the notion of applying their talents in their former industries. Thousands seemed to have reached that conclusion simultaneously in summer 2009. St. Cloud Technical College (SCTC) began receiving 200 to 300 inquiries each day about their truck-driving program and other shortterm training options. The tractor-trailer program swelled from 128 students in 2007 to 211 in 2009. Although there are some one or two-month training programs that will get people into a job, SCTC President Joyce Helens cautions that most majors require significant personal and financial commitments. “We don’t tell students what to do—we listen,” Helens said. “We counsel our students not to go into a program because they like the paycheck. It has to be the right job for their talents and interests.” She added that many older students might also be surprised at the number of careers that require STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, 8 Initiative Quarterly Magazine

and Math) skills. Job-seekers who are years removed from the classroom often need to brush up on basic math and science skills. Once they make the commitment, Helens said, it can open their eyes to new, rewarding careers. > Myth: Who’s hiring? Well, there’s healthcare, healthcare, and healthcare. > Reality-Check: Other industries are healthy, too. While it’s true that an aging population is driving unprecedented opportunities in healthcare, it’s not the only destination for career prosperity. Regional Analyst Cameron Macht crunches labor market numbers for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). While he predicts that healthcare and social assistance jobs will increase at the fastest rate in the coming decade, he expects other industries will see substantial gains as well. DEED’s 2006–2016 projections indicate strong potential for growth in the fields of accommodation and food services, retail trade, educational services, administrative and waste services, construction, finance and insurance, and professional and technical services, to name a few. The energy industry is also expected to add hundreds of new jobs in the next decade. DEED released its job projections in 2009, but Macht said the everchanging economy impacts the projections for the future. He expects the 2008–2018 projections to look different than even those released this year. “There will be a lot of changes,” said Macht. “There will be a lot of (sectors) that will anticipate much slower growth.” > Myth: WorkForce Centers only serve blue-collar workers. > Reality-Check: Start here, no matter your shirt color. WorkForce Centers are for everyone. Of the 2008–2009 dislocated workers who received services from the Stearns-Benton Employment & Training Council, 28 percent entered business services, 24 percent went into healthcare, 18 percent entered manufacturing, 9 percent were placed into wholesale trade, 5 percent entered engineering, 2 percent were placed into printing, and 1 percent entered management positions. To find the WorkForce Center serving your area, visit IQ



Re-Branded For Young Workers, CareerOne Program Offers Crash Course in Core Skills By Sarah Colburn | Photo by Jim Altobell

SUCCESS 101: Andrew Jasso learned core skills like punctuality, teamwork and conflict management, but it was interview coaching that flipped his point of view.


ndrew Jasso, a 22-year-old father of two, guessed that his regrettable gang tattoos were branding him as a bad hire. It turned out that the ink on his hands was far Jasso discovered that his body language and lack of “soft” or “core” less damaging than his lack of work readiness skills. skills could be more to blame for his job failures than the tattoos. Since high school, Jasso had struggled to find and keep a job. He Sally Brenden, deputy director for the Stearns-Benton worked on and off, getting acclimated to each new company just in time to Employment & Training Council, said the program wasn’t the invenbe let go. In May 2009, Jasso knew that he needed to make changes in his tion of a nonprofit organization—it was created with the counsel of area life in order to support his young family. He was just plain tired of losing business leaders. CareerOne was designed to systematically address work and losing money. local employers’ concerns with an upcoming workforce. By chance, Jasso stumbled across a newspaper ad for a new program “Employers are concerned that people have forgotten the basics, that promised to teach young workers how to find and keep jobs. Without and not just in central Minnesota,” she said. much to lose, he immediately signed up for “We receive phone calls from across the CareerOne, a four-week crash-course in job “Employers are concerned state and nation to explore how our proskills presented by the Stearns-Benton grams for young adults could be replicated Employment & Training Council a partner in that people have forgotten in other communities.” the Minnesota WorkForce Center–St. Cloud. the basics, and not Brenden added that young workers may Funded by Minnesota’s economic stimunot have family role models who teach and lus share of the American Recovery and just in central Minnesota.” demonstrate job skills that may seem to be Reinvestment Act, the CareerOne program common-sense habits for others. If funds targeted 14 to 24-year-olds who were identibecome available in the future, SBETC plans to repeat the program. fied as low-income and at-risk. This past summer, more than 180 workers David Waage, director of employment at St. Cloud Hospital, views were able to earn a workforce readiness certificate by passing a rigorous stanthe program as a career-builder and takes notice when applicants tout dard for attendance, professionalism, safety, and personal responsibility. their workforce readiness certificate. “There was a lot I didn’t know before I came here,” Jasso said. “If they can make it through that program, it shows some diligence Jasso polished the math and reading skills he’d need in a workplace, and perseverance,” Waage said. “It gives them an edge or a leg up. It’s focusing on tasks like taking measurements and reading company manuals. definitely a plus.” He attended classes on workplace dress codes and personal budgeting. He For Jasso, the experience has served as a confidence-booster. He learned how punctuality and attendance affect a businesses’ bottom line— received his GED in July and plans to attend college at the Minnesota no less than 95 percent attendance is required for graduation. He learned School of Business. He’s still debating his eclectic career goals—either about communication, conflict management, and how to work as a memlaw enforcement or dental hygiene. ber of a team in a diverse environment. He’s also working to get his tattoos removed, but he doesn’t feel Most importantly, he learned to look at himself through the eyes of like he’s branded anymore. prospective employers. As he listened to instructors discuss the nonverbal “I’ve been working pretty hard to better my life and my kids’ lives,” messages sent by posture and eye contact, he realized that interviewers Jasso said. “Because of CareerOne, I can take the initiative.” IQ could misinterpret his habits of looking at the floor and shuffling his feet as rude indifference. 10 Initiative Quarterly Magazine

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New Home Economics Immigrant Job-Seekers Face More than Recession By Mary MacDonell Belisle | Photo by John Linn


f you think finding a job during this economic recession is hard, try hitting the streets as a new immigrant or refugee. For Somali families fortunate enough to flee impoverished refugee camps, finding and keeping employment adds to the culture shock that impacts every facet of daily life. One Somali woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, fears losing her entry-level housekeeping job in St. Cloud. She works long, irregular hours while learning English at the McKinley Education Center. As much as she appreciates the safety and opportunities of her new home, she said she wishes there were more ways that the community could help connect good workers to businesses. Right now that’s a tall order; in Minnesota, there are about eight jobseekers for every available job. “There is a huge difference now,” says Mohamoud Mohamed, executive director of the St. Cloud Area Somali Salvation Organization. “Few companies are hiring refugees and immigrants in central Minnesota.” The region has been an international magnet mostly due to its entrylevel jobs in manufacturing, construction, food processing, hospitality, and agriculture. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates there are more than 13,000 immigrants and refugees residing in central Minnesota. African (mainly Somali) is the largest group, followed by East Asian and Latino. Three or four new refugee families are arriving in central Minnesota each week, according to Ismail Ali, Initiative Foundation trustee and chair of the local Somali Elders Council. “St. Cloud has been an attractive area because of businesses that hire people with limited English language skills,” said Julie Collins, St. Cloud Refugee Collaborative Employment Counselor, citing Electrolux, JennieO, and Gold’n Plump. Only about 25 percent of Collins’ mostly Somali clients have found jobs this year. Employability often depends on English skills, according to Mayuli Bales, Initiative Foundation trustee and Hispanic Ministry director at Catholic Charities’ Casa Guadalupe in Cold Spring. She said that many immigrants only have a third-grade literacy level and need help with language. “It’s not just conversational English,” she said. “It’s occupational English—there’s a big difference.” It’s the difference between, “Where is the bathroom?” and “Where is the safety control valve in case of an emergency?” Many immigrant and refugee applicants must pass employer-directed job assessments, and those 12 Initiative Quarterly Magazine

SPREAD THE WORD: Language skills are essential for new Americans, said Mayuli Bales. “It’s not just conversational English—it’s occupational English. There’s a big difference.”

who cannot are referred to community resources. Casa Guadalupe offers English instruction that emphasizes job safety. Occupational English introduces practical words and phrases that describe concepts that may be more difficult for learners. The Stearns-Benton Employment & Training Council (SBETC) has also helped employers coordinate on-site English courses, customized to the workplace. Finding childcare is another barrier. Many central Minnesota providers can’t accommodate the unique needs of immigrants and refugees, according to Renee Hendricks Olson, executive director of Child Care Choices in St. Cloud. Language, diet, and religious needs all present challenges to providers who aren’t accustomed to serving new cultures. Olson said it’s also difficult to find overnight care for children whose parents work second and third shifts. There is also a transportation issue— is the childcare provider on a bus route? In many rural communities, public transportation is limited or nonexistent. “We’re doing what we can on a local level to make things easier,” Olson added. Child Care Choices and SBETC have joined forces on the Childcare Liaison Program. Goals include creating a drop-in center so parents can attend English classes, licensing immigrants and refugees as childcare providers, educating current providers about other cultures, and working with Metro Bus to transport children and parents. Perhaps the largest hurdle is overcoming cultural misunderstandings, racism, and resentment. In central Minnesota’s culture of humility and conformity, for example, Somali cultural behaviors are often perceived as offensive. Kathy Zavala, executive director of SBETC, said she has noticed signs of increased animosity toward newcomers. “This is about fear and desperation and increased competition for scarce resources. Some Central Minnesotans who lost their jobs feel they shouldn't have to compete with new immigrants and refugees,” she added. “But in order to make sure our whole community prospers, we have to maximize all available labor.” IQ



hat if employers could prescreen seekers in less time? What if job seekers had a tool that demonstrated their capabilities in areas that matter most to employers? What if the entire community got involved in preparing the workforce? Workforce “U,” developed at the Stearns-Benton Employment & Training Council, has turned what some would call a far-fetched vision into a sustainable system that serves as a model for other communities nationwide. “Workforce “U” is the framework in which every member

of the community can participate in workforce development,” said Kathy Zavala, executive director of Stearns-Benton Employment & Training Council. Workforce “U” arose from a concern of area employers that a growing number of workers lacked basic skills including punctuality, problem-solving tactics and an understanding of how their job affects others. A group of business leaders partnered with Stearns-Benton Employment & Training Council to develop a set of courses and programs focused on equipping workers with the top employability skills.

What Employers Are Saying… “It gives me some security in knowing that those applicants have a level of understanding for certain things like professionalism, timeliness, and basic computer skills.” —Corey Donat Human Resources Director of ING Direct

“In today’s work environment, it’s very important that people have the right skills and abilities to meet a business’ needs. The Workforce “U” certificate gives the customers I work with some comfort that these certain skills and abilities have been mastered.” —Jill Magelssen Franchise Owner of Express Employment Professionals

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“It’s really filling a need I think the community will benefit from.” —Bill Scarince Owner of W.F. Scarince Inc.

The Right Skills for the Job

Workforce “U” Courses

A Workforce “U” certificate from any one of the program’s courses confirms a job seeker’s demonstration of the following key skills and employer expectations:  100 percent attendance  100 percent punctuality  Cooperation through understanding, respect and adaptability to others.  Contributing and valuable team player  Productive work habits  Quality work

Workforce “U” offers a wide range of courses for career exploration, planning and skill building. Here’s a look at four foundational courses:

Workforce “U” Snapshot Start: 2005 through a community collaborative between the Stearns-Benton Employment & Training Council and central Minnesota employers. Purpose: Equip workers with the skills that matter most to employers and match the future strategic needs of the community. Clients: Workers of all ages, educational levels and abilities. How it Works: Starts with individualized assessments, career exploration and job skills readiness training. Then, provides professional and collegiate-level training with courses at 100, 200, 300, 400, and 500 levels and provides resources to advance students to short-term and long-term training.

Career Launch Ready to climb the ladder? In Career Launch, students learn how to effectively tailor their attitudes, skills, abilities and actions to fit a new job. This course focuses on developing skills in listening, problem solving, conflict resolution and team building. Career Trek Where are your skills in demand? Through a series of in-depth assessments, Career Trek helps students dissect their skills, aptitudes, work values, interests and personality styles. Those assessment results are then coupled with extensive exploration of labor market information on wages and outlook, indemand occupations and thriving industries. Career Navigation What value can you bring an employer? In Career Navigation, students identify their career direction, learn how to create their personal elevator speech and effectively market their skill sets. The week-long course caters to noncomputer savvy students and focuses on a self-assessment, career research and work-life planning. Career Tools Have you ever seen yourself interview? In Career Tools, students take an introspective look at the job search process, including videotaping an interview to assess how they can improve their verbal and nonverbal communication. From resumes and portfolios to references and thank you letters, this course gives students the tools to showcase their skills. Students can present their portfolio of Career Tools products for credit consideration at St. Cloud Technical College.

Key Industries: Engineering and management, manufacturing, health services, wholesale trades, printing and publishing, business services. Employer-Driven: Progressive curriculum is developed based on the need of the industry and focused on equipping individuals with the skills and training they need to thrive in the current and future marketplace. Expert Instructors: Workforce “U” attracts leading experts in industry to ensure the courses maintain a high level of quality and meet industry requirements. Other Workforce Solutions: Breakfast with the B.E.S.T., Camp Challenge, and CareerOne (for youth). Location: 1542 Northway Drive, St. Cloud, MN 56303. Phone: (320) 308-5701 or 1-888-438-5627 Email: Website:



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In the turbulent seas of Minnesota unemployment, about 217,000 displaced workers are paddling for only 31,000 unfilled jobs. The current odds of landing on solid ground are nearly eight-to-one against. In central Minnesota, the job market is teeming with more than 12 potential applicants for every vacancy. How can they rise above the waves?



“What we started seeing last fall was completely different than what we’ve ever seen before,” said Craig Nathan, area manager for Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program (CEP) in Brainerd. “All of a sudden, more and more people were walking through our doors. We started seeing people who wouldn’t normally be laid off—those who’ve been with their company for 15 to 20 years and some in mid- to high-level management positions.”

According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, employers added 10,300 jobs in July, the state’s first employment gains since August 2008. In September, the state unemployment rate fell to a seasonally adjusted 7.3 percent, which compares favorably to the nation’s unemployment rate of 9.8 percent in the same month. Although there is reason for economic optimism, don’t try sharing the good news with the thousands who are still unemployed. With more than 109,000 Minnesota jobs lost in manufacturing, construction, and professional services alone, a full recovery may take several more years. Such a dark outlook, even with a silver lining, has taken a financial and psychological toll on thousands of displaced workers. In September, Rutgers University surveyed about 1,200 U.S. workers who became unemployed in the last 12 months. Overwhelming majorities of the survey's respondents said they have experienced anxiety, helplessness, depression, and stress after being without a job. Many said they’ve experienced sleeping problems and strained relationships and have avoided social situations. Others described diminished hopes of finding employment at older ages, and feelings that advanced degrees are useless. Some said they have questioned their self-identity after

they had allowed their professional careers to define them. “Most of the people who come through our doors want to quickly find another job like the one they just lost,” said Kathy Zavala, executive director of the Stearns-Benton Employment & Training Council. “Unfortunately, that’s not an option for many of them.” Zavala added that there are career opportunities in the healthcare, technology, and renewable energy sectors, among others, but they require

“Most of the people who come through our doors want to quickly find another job like the one they just lost. Unfortunately, that’s not an option for many of them.” drastically different skill sets than those of declining industries. In order to acquire those skills through retraining and education, she said, workers must have core reading, math, and science proficiency. For many, that means taking remedial courses before they can succeed in career retraining. “A lot of us haven’t taken a math or science course since we were in high school,” Zavala said. “We’ve simply let those skills lapse, and the amount of time since we’ve been in a classroom impacts our ability to successfully transition to in-demand jobs.”


Leaders of three of central Minnesota’s most prominent workforce and employment agencies agree that a lingering recession may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. For every worker who has endured the strain of lost employment, there exists an opportunity for personal and professional transformation. “The picture isn’t the brightest just yet, but I know there are jobs out there and companies are working hard to grow,” said Tim Zipoy, workforce development advisor at Central Minnesota Jobs and Training Services in Monticello. “There is hope. People aren’t CONTINUED ON PAGE 44

18 Initiative Quarterly Magazine


Benton . . . . . . . . . . 7.0 % Cass . . . . . . . . . . . . 7.9% Chisago . . . . . . . . . 8.4% Crow Wing . . . . . . . 7.4% Isanti . . . . . . . . . . . . 8.3% Kanabec . . . . . . . . 10.3% Mille Lacs . . . . . . . 10.5% Morrison . . . . . . . . . 9.0% Pine. . . . . . . . . . . . . 9.1% Sherburne . . . . . . . . 8.1% Stearns . . . . . . . . . . 6.8% Todd . . . . . . . . . . . . 7.5% Wadena . . . . . . . . . . 8.8% Wright . . . . . . . . . . . 8.2%

32,000 or 7.9% Unemployed Source: Minnesota DEED Local Area Unemployment Statistics Program, September 2009



Since last August, more than 120,000 Minnesotans may have sensed their time was coming. Managers were tight-lipped. Rumors flew. There was uneasiness in the lunchroom. Every expense that could be cut had been cut—every expense, but one. When their options narrowed, here’s how two central Minnesota companies made it through their worst days.

Dura Supreme—Howard Lake “The truth is, laying people off never gets easier,” said Steve Michael, director of Human Resources at Dura Supreme in Howard Lake. “I remember years ago when I was with a different business and we were downsizing. I would go home and say to my wife, ‘Tell me I’m not a bad person.’” Dura Supreme is a privately held company that builds residential wood cabinetry. At its peak in 2007, the company employed about 750. Home foreclosures and construction inertia made a sudden impact on cabinet sales in the last quarter of 2008. Layoffs were a last resort, Michael said. “Our owner made the conscious decision to carry 100 extra employees for nearly a

20 Initiative Quarterly Magazine

year while we tried other business tactics. We did that because these employees helped our business grow, and we hoped things would turn around.” Despite the company’s best efforts to avoid layoffs, including shutting the plant down one week each month, Dura Supreme was forced to shed about 250 workers in February and August of 2009. Today, the company employs just 350. Regardless of how foreboding it may seem, Michael said he believes that every employee deserves a face-to-face conversation. “There’s a lot of emotion that gets poured out when something like this happens,” he said. “That’s why we give our managers talking points to make sure everyone hears the same message about what’s happening, why it’s happening, and what the next steps are. “I’m not afraid to tell people that we let them down,” said Michael. “They’ve lived up to their end of the bargain. No matter the economy or other factors, it’s our job as managers to figure out how to grow the company. Unfortunately, this time we failed. We don’t take it lightly.” Dura Supreme hosted the dislocated worker team from

“I’m not afraid to tell people that we let them down. They’ve lived up to their end of the bargain. No matter the economy or other factors, it’s our job as managers to figure out how to grow the company. Unfortunately, this time we failed. We don’t take it lightly.” —Steve Michael, Dura Supreme



the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) on-site to meet with those who lost their jobs and share information about unemployment insurance, retraining benefits, and job search resources. “In the end, you take solace in knowing you did what you needed to do to protect the business,” said Michael. “People need to know you’re willing to step up, make the hard decision, and help move the company ahead.”

Wilkie Sanderson—Sauk Rapids Forty miles north, another woodworking company pioneered a far different approach to parting ways with 18 employees, one that doesn’t appear in MBA textbooks. “We brought our people together, I explained our situation in great detail, and everyone was given a sealed envelope,” CEO Marc Sanderson said. It was a strategy to avoid a nerve-wracking, embarrassing environment where employees waited to see if they were next to be called into the office. Each envelope contained a letter that delivered one of two messages: I’m sorry, but we have to lay you off. Your job is safe, but we have a lot of work to do to bring the others back. Cold and anonymous? Not so, according to Wilkie-Sanderson employees. Dave Determan, a 59 year-old rip saw operator, was one of those who received the bad news last March. “They told us not to open the envelope in the room, but to take it somewhere private,” said Determan. “I was really impressed by Marc’s emotion and sincerity. If they had tried to go around and talk to everyone individually, it would have been too alarming. This way, gossip and rumors were controlled.” Determan’s letter stated that Wilkie Sanderson hoped to bring the laid-off employees back, a single sentence in which he put a great deal of faith.

KNOCK ON WOOD: Dave Determan, 59, was laid off for six months before regaining his job at Wilkie Sanderson in Sauk Rapids. He got the bad news unconventionally— in a sealed letter.

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• DO conduct the layoff in-person. • DON’T lose control of the meeting or your emotions. • DO write a script and remain calm. Straightforward, clear explanations are important. • DON’T engage in small talk—get to the point. • DO be sensitive to the employee’s situation, but also be direct and firm. Make sure that the employee knows the decision is final and non-negotiable. • DON’T blame others for the actions being taken. • DO explain why the decision is necessary. • DON’T rush. Offer to give the employee a brief break or delay the rest of the meeting until he or she is composed. He decided not to look for another job right away with the hope that he would eventually be re-hired. His gamble paid off. Determan received a call about six months later and was reinstated in his old job the next morning. A glimmer of good news in a dark economy, Wilkie Sanderson also brought back the other 18 employees. “I don’t have any hard feelings at all,” said Determan. “I know they did what they had to do to keep the company going. I have no fear about my current job. I’m confident that the leaders are doing everything possible to prevent another layoff.” After selling commercial woodworking products that have already accounted for 80 percent of employee capacity in 2010, Sanderson and his management team are now charting a plan for hiring 14 new workers. He said he plans to remember all of the excruciating details of the layoff. “I intend to use the pain of that experience to drive our organization to be recession resistant,” he said. “When the economy turns around and we’re fat and happy again, I still won’t forget. My ultimate goal is never to go through this again.” IQ

• DO present a written notice of layoff and resources for unemployment services and assistance. • DON’T make comments, even if well intended, that could compromise the decision. Stay away from discussions that could confuse the primary message. • DO listen to the employee’s response. Hearing the employee does not mean you agree with him/her. • DON’T become defensive, argumentative or confrontational. It is best not to critique the decision that has been made. • DO tell the employee how much you appreciate the work they have done and recognize his/her contributions. • DON’T forget to communicate with the remaining staff. Remaining employees may feel guilty or worried about their jobs. • DO access employer and employee services through the Minnesota Department of Employment & Economic Development’s Dislocated Worker Program at 651-259-7537 or There are several laws that govern the warning and execution of layoffs.

Source: University of California-Irvine, Minnesota DEED FALL 09


IT’S CALLED THE SILVER TSUNAMI — the all-at-once aging of the Baby Boomer generation. By 2030, the number of Minnesota seniors is expected to double, with one in five of all central Minnesotans turning 65 or better. That single trend, combined with steady population growth, longer life expectancies, and the overall decline of American health, is driving major investments in healthcare and bioscience today. “We’re seeing major healthcare construction projects and business financing proposals all over our region, especially with senior care facilities,” said Randy Olson, Initiative Foundation vice president for economic opportunity. “Minnesota is also a hotbed for bioscience and biotechnology companies, and communities are ready to roll out the red carpet to grow the next Medtronic.” Technology is omnipresent in healthcare, and skilled workers are in high demand. Today, the profession faces workforce shortages that span the spectrum—from family medicine physicians with a decade of education to certified nursing assistants who can receive training in 75 hours. For those seeking career shifts, however, math, science, and technology skills may get you in the door, but they won’t necessarily get you the job. “We hire for attitude, first and foremost,” said Dave Waage, director of employment and recruitment at CentraCare Health System. “Degrees and technical skills come second.”

In St. Cloud, the volunteer-driven Science Initiative of Central Minnesota goes head-tohead with Rochester, metro suburbs, and other cities to lure bioscience companies and build an economic cluster of quality jobs and codependent businesses. Thus far, their anchor business is MicroBioLogics Inc., which produces laboratory microorganisms for medical and biological testing. “In central Minnesota, the bioscience industry is still gaining momentum,” Olson said. “Healthcare is already here in force, and we hope bioscience isn’t far behind.”




Contrary to conventional wisdom, healthcare hasn’t been recession-proof. Challenges include rising costs, patient postponements of some procedures and surgeries, inconsistent insurance reimbursements, uncertainty of healthcare reform, and widespread shortages of family medicine, internal medicine, and other specialty physicians. According to CentraCare’s Dr. Allen Horn, it’s an uphill battle to attract physicians to St. Cloud, and it’s even more difficult in the region’s rural areas. Medical care facilities are turning to physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners to provide primary care. In 2009, CentraCare hired 30 recent nursing program graduates, down from 70 to 75 in recent years, Waage said.

Recession job losses in other industries have led displaced workers to pursue the promise of healthcare’s high wages and certain reemployment. Most healthcare careers require higher education, and Minnesota’s college and university programs are often competitive and filled to capacity. Some employers will pay for accelerated CNA training in order to fill vacancies. A CNA license is often the first career step to higher-paying careers in nursing, which require more education. “We see many people immediately drawn to this field,” said Kathy Zavala, executive director of the Stearns Benton Employment & Training Council. “We caution them to make sure that they can handle the stress and intimacy of healthcare. These are jobs you have to love, not just tolerate.”

Besides highly trained physicians, in-demand occupations include registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, certified nursing assistants, home aides, orderlies and attendants, and social and human service assistants. The recession has delayed what the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development expects to be a severe shortage of nurses and other healthcare occupations. In the future, opportunities in home healthcare are expected to soar as patient care moves from the hospital to the home, Waage said.

Janet Holmberg, Centra Care Surgery Center 24 Initiative Quarterly Magazine



Work to promote health and to help patients cope with illness. Supervise licensed practical nurses and certified nursing assistants. Three out of five nurses work in a hospital. >> TYPICAL DAY Maintain accurate reports and records, observe patients and monitor vital signs using computerized equipment, write and manage care plans for patients, give patients treatments and medications, supervise other nursing staff, provide health education, disease prevention, child care, and nutrition in the community.

Listening, reading, thinking critically, applying math and science training to serious situations. >> EDUCATION Associate of Nursing degree required, Bachelor of Science preferred. Must pass state licensing exam. >> PAYCHECK Average of $33 per hour in central Minnesota. >> MN OUTLOOK Expected growth of 29.4 percent by 2016.



ENVIRONMENTAL CONSCIOUSNESS, rising fuel prices, and economic stimulus funds comprise a formula for financial success that has Minnesota entrepreneurs scrambling to get renewable energy products to market. The reality is, there may be more ideas than jobs right now. But economic experts say they’re coming. Minnesota has been a national leader in renewable energy, ranking in the top five in wind production and the top ten in ethanol production. The Minnesota Green Jobs Task Force, created by the state legislature, commissioned a 2008 market analysis that suggested the state could add nearly 20,000 more “green-collar” jobs by 2020, if proposed government initiatives are enacted. The industry itself is rapidly changing, and it’s anyone’s guess which technologies will lead the renewable energy revolution. For example, one fizzled science experiment in Minnesota has the potential of changing how car-owners fill up their tanks. Less than two years ago, an Augsburg College student asked Dr. Clayton McNeff, vice president of Anoka-based SarTec, if he would provide materials to be tested as catalysts for biodiesel. Although the experiment failed, it got McNeff thinking about a different recipe. “Literally, overnight, we made this unexpected discovery,” he said.

With no chemicals or waste products, his patent-pending “Mcgyan Process” quickly converts a variety of waste oils into biodiesel fuel. The conversion takes seconds in two reactors that are only six feet tall. “This really is an answer to energy independence in the United States,” McNeff said. With financing from the Initiative Foundation’s Green Business Loan Fund and other partners, McNeff founded Ever Cat Fuels and chose the rural community of Isanti to build his first commercial biodiesel plant in September. By 2014, Ever Cat plans to increase the facility’s annual output from 3 million to 30 million gallons before licensing the technology to be used in facilities nationwide. “Ever Cat’s breakthrough shows what an unpredictable industry this is,” said Randy Olson, Initiative Foundation’s vice president for economic opportunity. “What we do know is that future jobs will be available to those who have the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills.”

CHALLENGES Traditional sources of energy use delivery systems that are entrenched in current infrastructure, products, and societal norms. For example, it’s an expensive and controversial task to build electrical transmission lines to wind turbines. Most automotive fuel systems can’t

accept biodiesel, and many gas stations don’t yet sell it. There is public sentiment to “go green,” but most desire simple, low-cost options that don’t require major changes in behavior. According to Olson, these factors likely signal that the renewable energy industry and its jobs will grow slowly, but steadily.

IN-DEMAND Current in-demand occupations include general and operations managers, first-line supervisors of mechanics, installers, maintenance and repair workers, cost estimators, and industrial machinery mechanics. As the industry grows, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development expects a greater need for truck drivers, crop farm workers, electricians and plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters.

TRANSITIONS A government push for renewable energy is driving demand for green collar workers and funneling resources at all levels into specialized training programs. From two weeks to two years, these programs make it easy for workers and particularly appealing to those with experience in manufacturing or the trades to pursue career opportunities in assembly, installation, and management of solar and wind energy components.



Control automated fuel conversion process from a central computer. Ensure proper temperatures and precise elements are combined for chemical reactions. Employers include start-up renewable energy companies, ethanol plants, and biofuel production facilities. >> TYPICAL DAY Monitor instruments to control fuel processing. Consult engineers and supervisors to improve safety, quality, and production time. Coordinate maintenance and inspect equipment for safety hazards and wear. Take samples to be tested for quality.

Mechanical and computer skills as well as basic knowledge of biochemistry. Alert attention to details and safety procedures. >> EDUCATION Two-year degree in renewable energy-related field. Mostly on-the-job-training. >> PAYCHECK Average of $20.78 per hour in Minnesota. >> MN OUTLOOK As with many renewable energy occupations in Minnesota, data-based projections aren’t yet available.

26 Initiative Quarterly Magazine

Dr. Clayton McNeff, Ever Cat Fuels FALL 09


Eric Johnson, Kern Electronics and Lasers


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Improve existing computer systems or build new networks for organizations. Often specialize in business, science, or engineering systems. Employers include web and software companies, high-tech manufacturers, and financial institutions. >> TYPICAL DAY Install hardware and software, help staff and users solve computer problems, link systems, maintain security of data networks, write and revise programs, and prepare reports about technology costs and benefits for the organization.

Analytical thinking, attention to detail, staying abreast of new technologies, translating technology concepts to laypersons, and solving complex problems. >> EDUCATION Bachelorâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s degree in computer science, information science, or management information systems. A Ph.D. is required for jobs in research laboratories or universities. >> PAYCHECK Average of $32.98 per hour in central Minnesota. >> MN OUTLOOK Expected growth of 23.9 percent by 2016.

WHEN A GROUP OF TECHNOLOGY educators created the original business plan for Atomic Learning, they focused on online training for Upper Midwest teachers. However, the increasing speed and growth of the Internet broke down geographic barriers and opened the world to the Little Falls-based company. Its March 2008 expansion was financed with an Initiative Foundation investment through Granite Equity Partners. The company has brought its library of online technology training tools and tutorials to 8 million students from 40 countries. “We prioritize technology companies because they have quality jobs, low environmental impacts, and they can do business virtually anywhere,” said Sandy Voigt, Initiative Foundation program manager for technology finance. “That recipe is ideal for rural economic development.” The company has gained international recognition as it shifted from software training to infusing technology into the classroom. With Atomic Learning tools, teachers are now coordinating student experiments like real-time comparisons of breakfasts with those living in impoverished countries. “When you have the Internet, you can’t control the walls and who buys your products,” said CEO Dan Meyer. In the past three years, Atomic Learning’s staff has grown about 30 percent to include 65 employees worldwide. Of course, technology isn’t a silo industry. It has become a pervasive, bottom-line-raising

force that has transformed other industries like precision manufacturing. Since 1982, Kern Lasers has been a leading manufacturer of state-of-the-art laser cutting and engraving systems. The Wadena company posted 20 percent annual growth through 2007 when business peaked. The last two years have produced business levels similar to 2006, said Larry Kern, owner. It all started with a piece of emerging technology. While reading an article in the 1970s about a new laser that could etch an image into wood, Kern could not resist buying the technology for $170,000 with the vision of one day building a computerized system that would allow businesses to easily produce elaborate designs. It was a vision ahead of its time. The first computer was not introduced until the early 1980s. That drive for innovation remains today. “Every couple years, it seems as though you have to come out with something that’s faster, better, quicker,” said Kern, who continues to dedicate much of his time to research and product development.

CHALLENGES Staying abreast of constant technological advancements requires time and financial commitment. “If we would have kept our old technology, we wouldn’t be talking,” Kern said. “We wouldn’t be in business.” Telecommuting workers may also present challenges to maintain teamwork, communication, and corporate identity. “Only 40 of our

employees report into the office every day,” Meyer added. The others, including a programmer in Hawaii and another in Colorado, work from their home offices.

IN-DEMAND Current, in-demand jobs include business operations specialists, sales representatives, team assemblers, welders, cutters, and firstline production supervisors. As technology continues to emerge and broaden firms’ geographic markets, DEED expects a greater need for network and computer systems administrators, computer-controlled machine tool operators, sales representatives, network systems and data communications analysts, and general and operations managers. “It’s tough to predict what’s going to be there,” Meyer said, “but if you get comfortable using technology and continue to learn how to use software and how to use hardware, you’ll have increased opportunities for jobs.”

TRANSITIONS Although technology degrees or certification are generally required, Atomic Learning hired four workers who were displaced by 2009 layoffs at a local boat manufacturer. With onthe-job training, those employees have been able to transfer their experience and skills into the growing technology sector. The company has had particular needs for customer service and sales professionals who can serve its international customer base. IQ



For nearly 217,000 unemployed Minnesotans, losing a job can feel more like losing a life. But adversity also brings opportunity, and career transformations. Here are the stories of three downsized workers who found ways to upsize their careers.

30 Initiative Quarterly Magazine

Larry Davis, 38 Hometown: Kimball Old Job: Automotive mechanic. New Job: Training to Become a Wind Farm Manager. Advice: “You have to be open-minded, do phenomenal research, and be willing to jump into an industry that’s new.” Every Sunday, Larry Davis packs his bags, says goodbye to his wife and three young children, and makes the three-hour drive to Emmetsburg, Iowa, to attend one of the nation’s leading wind turbine technology programs. The former automotive mechanic slips into a modest apartment near the campus of Iowa Lakes Community College where he spends his week, cooking meals for one, climbing 300-foot tall turbines and taking time away from his homework to help his 10year-old son with a spelling lesson on the phone. It’s a career path Davis never thought he would take. A distinguished mechanic for Chrysler, Davis had specialized training that put him among the top 5 percent of United States mechanics before the automotive industry col-

lapsed. After his layoff from a Delano Dodge dealership in 2008, Davis spent two months wondering what was next. “It took a lot of soul searching,” he said. “I was very good at what I did and well respected. People asked for me. It was hard to say I’m going to leave all that behind.” Although Davis researched the emerging green job opportunities, he had more questions than answers before he decided to commute to college for two years. “When I sat down with Linda (a job counselor) at the WorkForce Center, we had to do some serious number crunching,” he said. “I had to make some commitments that I’d be able to stay in the program.” Davis qualified for financial assistance from the Minnesota dislocated-worker program because he planned to pursue a career in the renewable energy industry. The program picks up about two-thirds of Davis’ expenses. A scholarship helped to relieve the economic strain this year. “That’s the only way I could afford to go back,” he said. Weekly travel has been his routine for more than a year and will continue through spring when

he graduates with an associate’s degree in wind turbine technology. It’s a commitment—and short-term sacrifice—he’s willing to make for job security and opportunities for advancement. During the frequent calls from home, he hears about the small milestones his two-year-old daughter has made during the week. “They change so fast at that age,” he said. In those moments, he longs for 3 p.m. Thursday when he’s done with class and makes it home in time to tuck his children in for the night. “That’s the hard part. You miss all the little stuff,” he said. He knows he’s not alone. He finds solace and support from his nontraditional classmates. “I’m one of the oldest, but not by much,” he said. The majority of his classmates are in their thirties, he said, and taking a similar path of retraining. Davis hopes to turn his training into a rewarding career as a wind farm manager and possibly an industry instructor. He’s also considering going on to earn a bachelor’s degree in wind turbine technology to further solidify his competitive edge. “The more I’m in it, the more possibilities I’m finding,” he said. “The whole industry is just exploding.” FALL 09


Barb Malikowski, 46 Hometown: Becker Old Job: Sales at a Staffing Agency New Job: Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) at St. Benedict Senior Community, St. Cloud Advice: “You cannot let the word ‘no’ discourage you.” Three layoffs in five years pushed Barb Malikowski into serious depression. Ironically, her position was eliminated at a Minnesota WorkForce Center due to budget cuts in 2003. She secured a job at a nearby staffing agency before her last day. When the economic conditions pushed Landmark Personnel to downsize in 2008, she knew it would take a while to recover. She didn’t know what her future held. She longed for security. Her labor market research offered a bleak forecast. “I realized there were no jobs with my sales background, and the outlook was very grim,” she said. She had to make a change, but the questions mounted in her mind. Unsure of the answers, she took a chance and leaned on a counselor at the Stearns-Benton Employment & Training

Council, a partner in the Minnesota WorkForce Center–St. Cloud. She knew the services well from her time at the Monticello WorkForce Center. She knew training for a new career was her best option, but that didn’t make it any easier for the single mother. “I think the scariest thing is making that change,” Malikowski said. “That’s when you need support through the displaced workers program and people who can encourage you to keep going.” She stepped back, looked at her skills and saw an opportunity. “I always wanted to work at a hospital,” she said. Her recent experience taking care of her terminally ill fiancé cemented her desire to finally muster the courage to explore the possibility of a healthcare career. “I always thought that you needed so much experience to get into healthcare,” Malikowski said. The journey proved to be far less strenuous than she expected. With the help of the St. Cloud WorkForce Center, she found a 75-hour training at the American Red Cross to become a certified nursing assistant—a high-demand occupation today and on the top 10 list for growth in the next

decade in central Minnesota, according to DEED. She spent two hours a day searching the Minnesota Job Bank and applying for jobs. Before she passed her state certification exam in early July, she secured a job at the St. Benedict Senior Community. “I got lucky,” she said. “Most CNAs start at nursing homes.” “I thought I could never change someone’s diapers or do this or do that,” she said. “It is so much more than that. I have found it to be so rewarding because the older generation is very thankful for everything you do for them.” She looks forward to her conversations with her patients, particularly a 102-year-woman she fondly refers to as “Sweetie.” “She wakes up in the middle of the night and wants to talk,” Malikowski said. “She just wants attention and I love giving it to her.” Her experience has fueled her ambitions. Malikowski now has her sights set on pursuing the necessary training to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) at a hospital. “I think there is a lot of potential in the healthcare field,” she said. “There are so many avenues I can pursue so I think my future is bright.”

Andy Stone, 50 Hometown: Staples Old Job: Assembler at Boat Manufacturer New Job: Diesel Mechanic for Stanley Widmer Associates Advice: “Be persistent. If you think there is an opportunity, don’t let it go.” Andy Stone doesn’t take “no” for an answer. In his career, he worked through the ranks of the transportation industry and then started his own trash-hauling business in the Twin Cities. Looking for a slower, less-stressful lifestyle to raise his family, he turned to farming with his brother-in-law and took an assembly job at Larson Boats in Little Falls. When the water recreation industry faced a severe dry spell, it forced Larson to cut production and close plants. Stone lost his job in May 2008 and found few opportunities left in the industry. It wasn’t until a year later that Stone saw the job posting for a diesel mechanic at Stanley Widmer Associates, an industrial design firm in Staples. It seemed to be the perfect union of two of

his longtime hobbies—boats and mechanics. “My hands were greasy when I was six and working on lawn mowers,” he said. The position would call him to work on a high-tech, one-of-a-kind diesel boat engine created by Steyr Mannlicher. He had no experience on the engine, but that was little deterrent. “I knew I was the right guy for the job,” said the 50-year-old father of four. “It was just that I was missing this one piece.” That piece was specialized training from the German engine manufacturer. He researched where he could find the training he needed to seal the job. “It’s unlike any other diesel motor, so I knew I needed training to become a certified Steyr technician,” he said. Stone learned he needed to travel to Panama City, Fla., for a week-long course, but finding the funds to finance the trip and training would be difficult. He had been out of work for almost a year and applied for healthcare, energy, and unemployment assistance. His job counselor at Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program offered a

hand. “He found some money to cover my flight, car rental, and hotel,” said Stone. That left just under $500 for the training that he saw as a wise investment if he could secure the job. He asked company president, Stanley Widmer, for a conditional job offer and started in June right after he returned from Florida. “He wouldn’t have called me back,” Stone said. “People have to be persistent (in this job market).” His work at Stanley Widmer is allowing him to apply his technical expertise and natural innovative spirit to create a one-of-a-kind prototype of a boat the military plans to use in combat. Today, the boat commonly used by the U.S. Navy is too rigid. The fast, jarring ride across rough waters has broken soldiers’ legs and ankles, Widmer said. With a multi-million military contract at stake, Stone continues to work alongside Widmer, a design engineer, to build the prototype that they will take to the water next summer. The boat is made of a type of plastic that is lighter than water, making it as unsinkable as Stone himself. “It’s exciting because it’s a new concept and the sky’s the limit,” he said. IQ






Corte (right) considered himself a successful professional. Like many others, he thought that WorkForce Centers only served blue-collar workers or those without a complete skill set.

Corte’s story began more than two years ago when he lost his investment firm position. He’d spent hours a day looking for work, poring over online job postings, considering the commute and the pay. Corte had telecommuted to his former job in the Twin Cities. He quickly found that central Minnesota wages were lower than he expected. “I had several interviews, but the offers were less than half of what I made before,” he said. Corte turned to the Minnesota WorkForce Center at the urging of a friend. “Let’s just say I was very skeptical.” Corte considered himself a successful professional. Like many others, he thought

that WorkForce Centers only served bluecollar workers or those without a complete skill set. Still, he swallowed his pride and entered a new program called Workforce U, offered by the Stearns-Benton Employment & Training Council, a partner in the Minnesota WorkForce Center-St. Cloud. Soon after, he landed a job at Marco, a regional technology and business products company. When he was laid off again, his first call was back to the WorkForce Center. For thousands of displaced workers, the Stearns-Benton Employment & Training Council (SBETC), Central Minnesota Jobs & Training Services, and the Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program (CEP)

have become household names. Each agency offers free employment services and in-depth programs for those who qualify. Counselors help with résumés and mock interviews. They refer clients to nonprofit organizations to help meet emergency needs. They offer classes in creative job hunting, goal-setting, workplace skills, and computer technology. They also serve as counseling centers and funding repositories for several government stimulus programs that may subsidize education and retraining. And they serve everyone, according to Tim Zipoy, training and development coordinator for Central Minnesota Jobs & Training Services based in the Monticello Workforce Center. CONTINUED ON PAGE 50

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Initiative Foundation Fall 09 Newsletter

Wanted: Kid-Minded Business Leaders Early Childhood Coalitions Seek Volunteers >Some are motivated by the $7–$16 public ROI for every $1 invested in early care and education. Some are moved by the fact that less than 50 percent of Minnesota children are prepared to succeed in kindergarten. Others just get warm fuzzies by helping cute little kids. Whatever your inspiration, we’d like to connect you to local volunteer opportunities with the Initiative Foundation’s 15 early childhood coalitions. The coalitions are currently seeking business owners, managers, and HR personnel who have a passion for the well-being of young children and families in their communities. What’s in it for your business? The Federal Reserve Bank studies suggest that quality early childhood experiences are critical to future economic success. They provide a solid foundation of skills for a more technology-based and global environment.

Communities with essential services such as childcare are better able to attract and retain workers. Reliable, affordable care for working families benefits the local economy by decreasing absenteeism and turnover and improving the productivity of workers. Volunteers shape and take action on local priorities, including family support, childcare, childhood obesity, early literacy, and father involvement. “Early childhood is now undeniably connected to business and economic development,” said Jana Shogren, children, youth, and families specialist. “We want to tap the business community for their expertise and perspectives.” To learn more, contact Jana at (877) 632-9255 or

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38 Initiative Quarterly Magazine | 877.632.9255

Federal Favorite Foundation Receives $1 Million to Strengthen Emergency Services >Due to a strong track record of nonprofit leadership, the Initiative Foundation was one of only two Minnesota organizations selected to receive economic recovery funds from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In 2010 and 2011, more than $1 million will help strengthen central Minnesota nonprofits that serve families in economic distress. The dollars will provide leadership training, consulting services, workshops, and grants to more than 80 critical nonprofits challenged by increased demands for emergency services. Selected nonprofits will receive assistance to help people find and retain employment, earn higher wages, and gain greater access to government benefits and tax credits. The foundation will also deploy 20 Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) members

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to help families in poverty. “Most nonprofit budgets are cut to the bone, and leaders are looking for ways to make ends meet,” said Cathy Hartle, Initiative Foundation senior program manager. “This will pump over $600,000 back into area nonprofits in grant funding alone. We’re honored to be chosen for this role.” In 2009, the foundation tabbed 60 percent of its own grants for services to displaced workers and distressed businesses. It also provides supplementary business loans to secure quality jobs in central Minnesota communities. The foundation will hold meetings in early 2010 to provide more information about the federal grant. Contact Cathy Hartle at (877) 632-9255 or visit

Cathy Hartle, Senior Program Manager

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Initiative Foundation Fall 09 Newsletter

Spotlight: Friend of the Foundation A Little Thank-You Note to Rita >Have you ever taken your best friend for granted? You know, the friend who is always there when you need a hand, the one who sent you a card when your mom was sick (even though you don’t remember telling anyone), the person who pitched in when the basement flooded, and then helped the kids perform last rites for the goldfish? Well, we don’t want to fall into that trap! Dear Rita, Thank you for being generous with your time, talent, and treasures! As a member of the Initiative Foundation’s loan committee since 1989, you have helped us distribute $36

40 Initiative Quarterly Magazine

million in business loans, through which nearly 10,000 central Minnesota jobs have been created or saved. And right now, that’s something to feel great about. Thank you, too, for generously supporting the Initiative Foundation’s mission with a financial gift. You have a passion for rural people and hometowns, and you always remind us that the foundation’s impact extends beyond its own efforts. It’s about partnerships, ROI, and bringing in new dollars to central Minnesota. We’re proud to call you our friend. Sincerely, The Board of Trustees & Staff

Rita Sobania, Volunteer & Donor Extraordinaire

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Chris McAllister

Seniority Rules Displaced Boomers Face Rougher Road to Reemployment By Mary MacDonell Belisle


omewhere between recession and retirement lies a no-man’s land for 50-something Baby Boomers. Some think they’re too old to go back to school. Others know they’re too young to call it a career. For Steve Zupek and thousands of his peers, the triple-jeopardy of job layoffs, growing healthcare expenses, and shrinking 401Ks couldn’t have come at a worse time. At age 55, the former IT consultant was downsized in July after 19 years working for a central Minnesota paper mill. “There was all the shock and the emotion. We had to trim all the fat in the family budget,” he said, “(but) I’m too damn young to retire.” Retirement is simply not an option for Zupek and many other displaced workers his age. About 25 percent of American workers have postponed their retirements in the past year, according to the 2009 Retirement Confidence Survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI). Only 13 percent reported they are very confident in having enough money for a comfortable retirement, the lowest level since 1993. Another EBRI analysis shows the impact of the recession on retirement accounts. Median assets in major plans have dropped at least 16.4 percent from year-end 2007 to mid-June 2009. Although the Dow Jones Industrial Average topped 10,000 for the first time in 2009, Zupek said his nest egg is smaller. He also faces stiff penalties if he chooses to withdraw retirement funds before age 591⁄2. Health insurance is another challenge. Zupek has COBRA medical coverage; his past employer pays 65 percent of the premium, and he makes up the balance. To reduce expenses, he exchanged brand-name prescriptions for generics and planned shoulder surgery while he still has insurance. Decreased savings and increased health insurance costs are the primary reasons why he and his central Minnesota peers are seeking reemployment. That trend has employee assistance agencies saying that their lobbies look far different than before. “This mid-aged, experienced group comprised 10 percent of past jobseekers,” said Craig Nathan, operations manager for Brainerd’s Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program. “Today, it’s 50 percent.” Experience, relationships, reliability, and problem-solving are some of the assets that Baby Boomers bring to employers, according to Kathy Zavala, executive director of the Stearns-Benton Employment & Training 42 Initiative Quarterly Magazine

Council. Technology and related skills, however, have left many behind. “Unfortunately, this demographic may not have maintained their skills or used employers’ education reimbursement programs as much as they could have,” she said. “Now they have to figure out which training is most critical and valuable, and then if they have the time or desire to pursue it.” Boomers need to add skills quickly and adapt to the changing workplace environment, said Jill Magelssen, Express Employment Professionals in St. Cloud. She sees more mature clients embracing technology. While some wonder about age discrimination, neither Magelssen nor Zavala are convinced that age is an insurmountable barrier. True, a young applicant may have mastered technology tools, but a mature worker may provide the experience the position requires, noted Corey Donat, human resources manager at ING Direct in St. Cloud. The deciding factor might be the amount, cost, and turnaround for training.

Experience, relationships, reliability, and problem-solving are some of the assets that Baby Boomers bring to employers. “This is a transformational economy,” said Kathy Gaalswyk, president of the Initiative Foundation, which finances locally owned companies that create quality jobs in central Minnesota. “The best jobs today are knowledge-based, and knowledge is constantly changing. You have to learn how to learn and keep learning in order to stay competitive in the job market.” Zupek is among the few who have spurned traditional retraining and used the recession as an opportunity to change career paths. His corporate severance package is helping to finance his own small business, North Star Roastery, supplying coffee beans for retail and commercial markets. “All the shock and the emotional stuff are gone now,” Zupek said. "I had some breathing room to change careers, and now I’m pumped about my new business and proud of the fact that I made my opportunity. You have to believe in your dream first.” IQ

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just sitting and waiting for things to turn around—they’re moving forward toward brighter times ahead.”

SQUARE ONE Zavala believes that every displaced worker, regardless of their past position or education level, should contact their local WorkForce Center immediately after losing employment. “We are a one-stop shop for job services and training,” she said. “We serve both the employer and the employee, and we get to know each person who walks through the door so we can customize our services and programs to help.” In addition to connecting with the WorkForce Center, Zavala recommends three initial steps. 1. Apply for unemployment insurance online or on the telephone. 2. Have an open and honest conversation with your family, and make necessary adjustments to your family’s finances. 3. Start developing your reemployment plan and assume it will take longer to find a job than you initially think. “People also need to know to dial 211, which is an information referral service operated by the United Way,” she said. “They can find help with everything from food, clothing, financial counseling, childcare, and so much more.” Based in Little Falls, the Initiative Foundation responded to the economic crisis by tabbing 60 percent of its 2009 nonprofit grants to fund displaced worker training, emergency services, and small business consulting. “Central Minnesota is fortunate to have a host of resources available to help people in need,” said Kathy Gaalswyk, Initiative Foundation president. “We repurposed our grants because the economy depends on business growth, employment opportunities, and confidence in the future. Basically, we’re investing in hope.” Many displaced workers have also found help at, a clearinghouse website that was recently launched with funding from 44 Initiative Quarterly Magazine

Manufacturing . . . . . . . . . . – 46,159 Professional & Business Services. . . . . . . – 37,823 Construction . . . . . . . . . . . – 25,840 Retail Trade . . . . . . . . . . . . – 11,652 Transportation & Warehousing . . . . . . . . . . – 9,273 Wholesale Trade . . . . . . . . . – 8,760 Leisure & Hospitality. . . . . . – 8,043 Real Estate, Rental & Leasing. . . . . . . . . – 3,411 Information . . . . . . . . . . . . . – 3,306 Other Services . . . . . . . . . . – 2,911 Finance & Insurance . . . . . . – 1,012 Source: Minnesota DEED Current Employment Statistics Program, Aug 2007-Aug 2009

the Jobs NOW Coalition and Goodwill/Easter Seals. The site has links and descriptions of Minnesota WorkForce Centers, career resources, nonprofit services, and ways to stretch savings.

EXTREME MAKEOVER For Doreen Schmidt, it was the Minnesota WorkForce Center in St. Cloud that helped her transform the devastation of losing her job into the opportunity to pursue a lifelong dream. Schmidt visited the center after being laid off from her job in quality assurance at Stearns, Inc. in Sauk Rapids when the company was purchased by Coleman in 2007. “I was scheduled to have surgery so my layoff was postponed, but the day I returned from my surgery, I was immediately laid off,” said Schmidt. “I’m 56 years old and I was thinking, ‘Who is going to hire me?’” Schmidt decided to take advantage of services offered at the WorkForce Center. She participated in several group informational meetings and skill-building pro-

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grams, but found one-on-one meetings with her career counselor to be the most help. “My counselor, Linda, helped me think about what I really like to do and what career would be best for me. I realized that I have always wanted a career in healthcare, but I didn’t think it would ever be possible,” she said. She took classes at St. Cloud Technical College to become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) through the WorkForce Center’s Dislocated Worker Program, which paid for all of her coursework. A CNA certification is the first stepping stone to a lucrative career in nursing. Schmidt also learned job search techniques and took a computer refresher course at the WorkForce Center, which helped her land a job at St. Benedict’s Senior Community. “I’m making a little less than I was before, but it’s not just about the money,” said Schmidt. “I absolutely love what I’m doing and the people I work with. I’m so grateful I got this opportunity.”


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46 Initiative Quarterly Magazine

Mass layoffs have have spurred thousands of displaced workers like Schmidt to return to central Minnesota colleges for career retraining. Most area colleges reported enrollment increases of 5 to 10 percent during the 2009 fall semester. Topping the list is Pine Technical College in Pine City, with a whopping 22.6 percent upsurge in students. St. Cloud Technical College enrolled more than 4,000 students for the first time in history, which represented a 15 percent increase. SCTC President Joyce Helens said the college has rebundled many of their course offerings to make them more accessible. “We advise people to go to the WorkForce Center first, which is co-located at our campus to find about funding assistance and to assess their interests,” she said. “Then, they can walk through our doors and find out about everything from obtaining an entirely new degree to programs that will sharpen their skills and build their resume.” Helens said she feels an emotional connection with people who lost their jobs and wants them to know that a world of possibilities lie ahead.

reduced overall spending used money from savings/ retirement to make ends meet borrowed money from family or friends missed a mortgage or rent payment increased credit card debt declared personal bankruptcy Source: Rutgers University, September 2009

“My own dad was dislocated years and years ago, and I remember that he felt like he had failed,” she said. “He finally found a new job and career path by becoming a truck driver. His experience is a big part of the reason I went into education.” Even St. Cloud State University, which offers a broad spectrum of bachelor’s and master’s programs that require a long-term academic commitment, recorded a noticeable spike in enrollment. SCSU President and Initiative Foundation Trustee Earl Potter said that the university is responding to the rapidly changing job market. “We had an enrollment increase of almost 5 percent fall semester, which is likely due in part to the number of displaced workers seeking education for new careers,” Potter said. “Our curriculum will always be focused on core skills, but we’re also constantly surCONTINUED ON PAGE 48

Joyce Helens: St. Cloud Technical College enrollment jumped 15 percent.




veying the business landscape to meet regional workforce needs. The challenge, in the words of hockey great Gordie Howe, is skating to where the puck is going to be, not where it is.”


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48 Initiative Quarterly Magazine

Patty Carruth of St. Michael advises other displaced workers to keep a positive attitude, even when the future looks bleak. Carruth was laid off from her job as an event planner, specializing in corporate travel and business meetings. When the economy faltered, corporate events came to a screeching halt and so did the event planning division at her former company. “In between the tears, I had already made up my mind to look forward,” said Carruth. “I was not bitter and I had no regrets. The company had made a business decision in order to survive and I could accept that.” Carruth, who has a bachelor’s degree and fits the profile of the mature, highly educated and skilled worker, never imagined the poor economy would affect her personally, but she wasted no time in putting a plan in motion to find new employment. “I was fortunate that my former company paid for two months of transition services at a company called Right Management,” said Carruth. “I enrolled in this service the same day I was laid off,

“Unemployment is not something I would wish on anyone, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.” –PATTY CARRUTH

along with notifying the unemployment office and contacting the Monticello WorkForce Center.” Carruth said the support of her family was key in helping her keep a positive outlook as she maneuvered through the maze of options and resources. She said her unemployment insurance and the federal economic stimulus program that reduces COBRA health insurance payments for dislocated workers were keys to stretching her family’s budget. “Our family’s healthcare insurance would have cost $1,000 per month, but through this program it was only $335. That was a huge blessing for us,” said Carruth. The people at Right Management, along with her job counselor at the WorkForce Center, helped Carruth repackage her skills, attain additional education in project management, and gain new skills to market herself for a variety of new career options. After five months, she found a job through the WorkForce Center’s Minnesota Works online job bank. Today, she is the builder relations manager for Becker Home Center, an ideal match for her skills and interests and one she said she never expected to find. “Unemployment is not something I would wish upon anyone, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise,” said Carruth. “I eagerly awake each day, not just because I have a job, but because I’m working at my dream job.” IQ



Where to Begin (Again) CONTINUED FROM PAGE 36

“It’s across the board—it’s people who are blue collar, it’s people who are white collar,” he said. “It’s IT people, administrators, and managers.” To meet the unique needs of a professionally diverse clientele, SBETC launched its Workforce U program collegiate-style, with workers choosing their areas of study. In 2009, more than 500 have enrolled in core Workforce U offerings—Career Launch, Career Navigation, and Career Trek. Each course was crafted by local employers who have a vested interest in developing the quality of job applicants. Many of the adjunct U “professors” are working professionals.

“It’s across the board—it’s people who are blue collar, it’s people who are white collar. It’s IT people, administrators, and managers.” –TIM ZIPOY Monticello Workforce Center

“Workforce U is about the job-seeker developing skills and abilities that meet a workforce need,” said Kathy Zavala, executive director of the Stearns-Benton Employment & Training Council. That workforce need can range from employees who show up to work on-time to mid-level managers who are proficient in creating Excel spreadsheets. In today’s tight job market, Zavala said many professionals are seeking to build very specific skills that weren’t required in their last position or were the domain of downsized clerical staff. When Corte entered the program, he CONTINUED ON PAGE 52

50 Initiative Quarterly Magazine

Three Certificates that Mean Something Displaced workers can reinforce their resumes with Workforce U credentials that often turn the heads of prospective employers. Every certificate requires students to demonstrate workforce readiness skills, such as 100 percent attendance, 100 percent punctuality, professionalism, teamwork, and a quality work ethic. Below are three U certificates and what they mean to workers and employers.

Career Launch Certificate I

The Worker’s Take: “There is more to getting and keeping a job than just technical knowledge. I’m confident in my ability to maintain healthy relationships with customers and coworkers.” I The Employer’s Take: “This applicant can be a member of our diverse team. He knows how to listen, communicate, solve problems, and manage conflicts.”

Career Trek Certificate I The Worker’s Take: “Every

career has a path of education and experience. I know which careers are right for me, which skills I already have, and which skills I need to get.” I The Employer’s Take: “This applicant is driven by a goal. She understands the career path and training necessary to get this job.”

Career Navigation Certificate I The Worker’s Take: “There’s a difference

between a job and a career. I understand how to market myself and my skills to prospective employers.” I The Employer’s Take: “This applicant can quickly explain her skills and the value she could bring to my company.”

Source: Stearns Benton Employment & Training Council,

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Where to Begin (Again) CONTINUED FROM PAGE 51

intended to skip the basics and go straight to improving his marketability through education. Instead, he started with résumé-writing, creative job-search skills, and career exploration. That’s how he learned to spot the bitterness with which he told prospective employers about his job loss. The classes helped him become more aware of the way he was perceived. Corte, who established a career identity as a senior server administrator, also discovered that he no longer had the inner drive for that position. He worked through Workforce U’s career assessment process and decided to enter the world of information security. He said he’s better prepared to discuss his attributes, and he plans to complete a degree in the field online. “You have to walk into the program with an open mind,” he said. “It has a lot of benefit if you’re willing to accept it.” The benefit of Workforce U comes not 52 Initiative Quarterly Magazine

Allison Waggoner, human resources, safety, and communications manager for DCI, Inc., said her company believes so strongly in Workforce U that they guaranteed an interview to anyone with a certificate from the program.

only through training; it comes through credentials. As clients successfully complete the various programs and classes, they earn certificates showing theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve successfully mastered a variety of core job skills. A Workforce U readiness credential signals that a job candidate has demonstrated 100 percent attendance, 100 percent punctuality, professionalism, teamwork, and a quality work ethic. As clients progress through the program, theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re able to earn other certifications, some worth college credit, said Sally Brenden, deputy director for the StearnsBenton Employment & Training Council. Though many participants desire the shortest path to gainful employment, the program helps participants set short-term job and long-term career goals, including an education and training plan.

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Where to Begin (Again) CONTINUED FROM PAGE 53

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That plan may begin with volunteer work, job shadowing, work experience programs, and internships. Participants may also attend short classes to receive formal credentials such as a food-handler’s license, OSHA training, or computer software training. Though WorkForce Centers can provide educational tools for students, staff members acknowledge the classroom setting isn’t right for everyone. In those instances, centers can often coordinate on-the-job training, paying up to half a student’s salary for up to six months. They may also be able to provide help with childcare, transportation, and other job search expenses. Either way, central Minnesota employers are taking notice. The Initiative Foundation partners with the WorkForce Centers and provides supplementary business loans to create quality jobs in central Minnesota communities. Randy Olson, the foundation’s vice president for economic opportunity, said that businesses invest considerable amounts to ensure they hire the right people.

“When employers see Workforce U on a job application, they know that there’s a pretty good chance that this person has the soft skills and the drive to succeed. There is significant value in that. Otherwise, it’s just a guessing game and you find that you’re wrong as often as you’re right.”

–RANDY OLSON Initiative Foundation

“When employers see Workforce U on a job application, they know that there’s a pretty good chance that this person has the soft skills and the drive to succeed,” he said. “There is significant value in that. Otherwise, it’s just a guessing game and you find that you’re wrong as often as you’re right.” Allison Waggoner, human resources, safety, and communications manager for DCI, Inc., said her company believes so strongly in Workforce U that they guaranteed an interview to anyone with a certificate from the program. DCI manufactures storage and processing tanks for a variety of commercial industries. Janelle Adelman, human resources manager for Knife River Corporation, believes the program helps her target prepared workers, which saves money on classified advertising and job fair recruiting. [Editor’s note: Neither DCI nor Knife River is currently hiring.] “The WorkForce Center is definitely a place we want to be looking for talent,” Adelman said. IQ


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IQ&A with Matt Kilian, Executive Editor

IQ Sharpens its Skills with Kathy Zavala, Executive Director of the Stearns-Benton Employment & Training Council

IQ: Give me an idea of how busy your year has been. KZ: Well, it’s a humbling experience to take a walk around our Resource

IQ: You’ve said that workforce development is everybody’s business. How so?

Room and realize that you’re the only one with a job. We’ve seen a 200 percent increase in our Dislocated Worker programs in the first eight months of this calendar year. A lot of people just want to get another job like the one they had. Others are underemployed—they have skills that they aren’t using in their current jobs, so they’re looking for something else. Our staff is working harder than they ever have before.

KZ: If we want our communities to be great places to live, work, and raise

IQ: What keeps you coming in to work every day?

KZ: I think it’s the belief that we can be of service. We ring the office cowbell every time one of our clients lands a job. Honor, excellence and passion are the words we live by.

IQ: I'm suddenly out of work, out of money, and in your office. Is there hope for me? KZ: Hopefully, you would come in before you’re out of money and not wait. We’d begin by getting to know you and understanding your situation. We’d refer you to other community services to help with emergency needs. We’d assess your ability to work and to look for work. After that, we’d help you create a realistic plan to get you where you want to be. We offer services for all workers at all levels, blue-collar or white-collar. You should have hope because you’re not alone.

our children, we need to make sure that our communities are prosperous. In order to grow prosperity, we need labor to have skills that contribute to generating revenue. Those skills are intellectual, physical, social, emotional, and more. They are not developed through one person or one provider or one system. There is a role for everyone. We may not always think of it that way, but it really is everybody’s business.

IQ: You’re queen for a day. What one change do you make to “the system?”

KZ: Our workforce is always transforming. Right now, we’re aging and becoming more diverse. At the same time, our region is growing and the next generation is entering the workforce. If I were queen, as you say, I’d remove the barriers in order to maximize all available labor by making training accessible, regardless of demographics or status related to public assistance.

IQ: Crystal-ball time: Where will the jobs come from in 2010? KZ: That, my friend, is the million-dollar question. IQ

IQ: Finish this sentence: In this economy, the best skill to have is . . . KZ: A demonstrated ability to initiate and continue your own learning and training in response to changing labor demands. In short, we all have to make sure our skills are in demand. IQ: What’s one myth that needs to be busted? KZ: Some might say: “People who aren’t working aren’t trying hard enough.” It seems we’re more comfortable if we assign blame. The greatest lesson I’ve learned is that everyone wants to contribute and do a good job. If given the opportunity, people will soar.

56 Initiative Quarterly Magazine

Kathy Zavala is executive director of the StearnsBenton Employment & Training Council, a partner in the Minnesota WorkForce Center-St. Cloud. She has served in human capital development for more than 30 years, 21 with SBETC.

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IQ Magazine - Fall 2009  

Published by the Initiative Foundation in Little Falls, Minnesota, IQ Magazine boils down regional leadership issues to their very essence....