Employers hungry for workers offer training and eliminate formal barriers

CHASKA, Minn. (AP) — From hospitals in St. Paul to high-tech firms in Rochester, employers in Minnesota are angling for immigrants, welfare recipients and other job applicants once considered too much trouble to hire.
Some are eliminating formal barriers such as tests, opting instead to pre-train applicants in basic job skills. Others offer English classes on the job.
Pao Vang’s experience is typical of many students’ obstacles.
He has worked all but four years since he and his wife flew to Minneapolis from a Thai refugee camp in 1981. But in factory and warehouse, greenhouse and hotel kitchen, the 47-year-old immigrant has never earned more than $9 an hour. His wife earns about the same.
With seven children and few savings, they need more. Vang hopes to work for Lake Region Manufacturing, a Chaska maker of coils and guide wires for pacemakers and other medical devices.
Vang applied before without success. So he signed up for a class at Lake Region, where lessons in measurement, technical vocabulary, blueprint reading and production methods should prepare him for an entry-level job paying $9.30 an hour.
A spirit of mutual aid underlies the class. The teacher, Collin Minshull, was hired by an educational cooperative run by Carver and Scott counties, which uses a state grant to pay his salary. Lake Region and Advance Circuits, a Minnetonka circuit board manufacturer, have donated equipment and trainers.
But this is not charity; the firms hope to hire the graduates.
“There is a need for workers in our area within a half-mile of our plant that’s just tremendous,” said Mark Fleischhacker, president of Lake Region. “All we’re looking for is a work force that’s reliable, meaning they come to work every day.”
It’s actually a bit more complicated. Lake Region’s jobs involve small parts, high volume and tolerances measured in thousandths of an inch. In 1997, turnover among production workers approached 50.
The company asked the educational cooperative for help. Together, they won $120,000 from the Minnesota Job Skills Partnership to run the training course.
Lake Region is pleased with the results. Over the past year, it has hired 30 graduates, retained 24 and promoted two.
While this is the fifth class for Lake Region, it’s the first for Advance Circuits, which won a $185,000 state grant to continue the class. Advance Circuits hopes to hire 100 graduates over the next year.
Lake Region has worked for years to attract inner-city and immigrant workers. In the process, it scrapped an entrance test in favor of this class, eliminated mandatory overtime, allowed employees to attend English classes during work hours and made leave policies more flexible.
To retain one skilled employee who shares a car with her husband, human resources manager Jan Brown found the husband a job at a nearby pie company.
“In order to reduce the turnover, you have to be able to be creative,” Brown said.