Staples, Minn.,
19:53 PM

Workforce Conference Connects Education and Business

Over 80 educators, administrators, and business leaders gathered at NJPA on Dec 8 for the third-annual conference

The annual Building the 21st Century Workforce Conference is a chance for community members to gather, collaborate, and set goals for the central Minnesota workforce.

Over 80 educators, administrators, and business leaders gathered at National Joint Powers Alliance® (NJPA) on Friday, Dec 8 for the third-annual conference.

Bart Graves, NJPA Education Solutions Career and College Readiness Consultant, organized the conference and planned the day with three goals in mind. First, to build collaborative relationships between education and business. Second, share ideas and best practices; find what works and do more of it. Lastly, grant attendees an opportunity to help set goals for career readiness in the region.

Mike Bjerkness, workforce director for the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corporation (BLAEDC), attended the event for the second year in a row.

“It's really important in my role that I see the collaboration that's taking place among NJPA, education, and businesses,” Bjerkness said. “For me to come over and get all of those pieces of the puzzle put together and hear how things are flowing, how the education pieces are looking at manufacturing for example. I really want to be able to bring that back to the businesses of Crow Wing County and the Brainerd Lakes Area and explain to them that people are doing things.”

Bjerkness also sees value in the event because he's seen the forecast for Minnesota's age trends and how it will impact the workforce.

“As we see the projected population and age numbers and what they're doing, we're going into a bit of a trough,” Bjerkness explain. “We don't come back to this workforce level until 2040. Without career readiness programs, without programs like NJPA's looking to input or researching to bring into the schools in Region 5, we’re going to fall behind the continuum.”

The conference opened with a keynote address from Central Lakes College President, Dr. Hara Charlier, and R5 Development Commission Executive Director, Cheryal Lee Hills. The duo spoke about the interdependence of business and education in our region, stressing the importance of businesses being open and willing to communicate their needs and also welcome students in their doors for shadowing and work experience.

Program updates followed, with presentations from BLAEDC, Amatrol, and Fuel Education. Before breaking for lunch, participants divided into breakout sessions with the chance to learn more about regional programs.

In the afternoon, attendees divided into five cluster meetings organized by career field: healthcare, agriculture/energy/hospitality, education innovation/middle school programming, business/IT, and manufacturing/transportation/robotics.

Graves will review each cluster group's goals, suggestions, and notes, plus individual participant feedback, and then look to make connections within Region 5.

For more information about career and college readiness in Region 5, visit

About NJPA

Sourcewell (formerly National Joint Powers Alliance) is a self-supporting government organization, partnering with education, government, and nonprofits to boost student and community success. Created in 1978 as one of Minnesota's nine service cooperatives, we offer training and shared services to our central-Minnesota members. Throughout North America, we offer a cooperative purchasing program with over 200 awarded vendors on contract. Sourcewell is driven by service and the ability to strategically reinvest in member communities.