Information Technology (IT) is one of the fastest growing industries in Minnesota. IT occupations account for 3.8% of total employment in Minnesota, above the national average of 3.4%. This means Information Technology employment is more concentrated in Minnesota than in the nation as a whole. Tech employment is ingrained across all industries, including health care, manufacturing, agriculture, transportation and retail.
Currently, the state of Minnesota is home to about 110,000 people working in IT. Unfortunately, many believe to have a career in tech and live in Minnesota, you must relocate to the Twin Cities. Sure, the highest concentration of tech companies and jobs are location in the metro. However, there are an increasing number of opportunities in IT in Greater Minnesota.
The Governor proclaimed April 2021 as Technology Workforce Month in Minnesota to acknowledge the importance of tech employment in the state and the need to develop talent to meet current and future demand. During April, employers, educators, tech professionals and job seekers from across Minnesota engaged in discussion on tech and how to how to strengthen its workforce. During Tech Month we highlighted statewide as well as metro-area programs and initiatives. Now, we’d like to highlight a few of the many tech programs and initiatives in Greater Minnesota.
Northwest Minnesota – Focusing on the Future of Autonomous Technology
Northwest Minnesota is home to the National Center for Autonomous Technologies, or NCAT. NCAT is hosted at Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River falls, and serves as a training and development center for advanced technologies such as unmanned aircraft systems, semi-automated vehicles, and a variety of robotic applications.
Through industry and educational partnerships, NCAT drives innovation and builds on resources to engage students and develop career pathways of the future. But the NCAT community extends beyond the classroom, providing opportunities for real-word application. By organizing educator workshops, STEM camps, and competitions that engage families and the general public, NCAT raises awareness of autonomous technological development, homegrown innovation and our leaders of tomorrow.
From May 11-18, NCAT will be participating in the STEM for All Video Showcase highlighting the innovative steps they’ve taken to design and implement Virtual Reality (VR) into STEM activities and virtual learning. NCAT has heavily utilized VR to improve learning environments and social engagement that were affected by COVID-19.
The theme of the video showcase is ‘COVID, Equity & Social Justice’, topics that NCAT has been intentional in addressing. In particular, NCAT works to remove barriers and encourage engagement in STEM and autonomous technologies in underserved areas. Jonathan Beck, NCAT Executive Director, emphasizes the importance of this work, “We at NCAT truly believe that diversity drives innovation and will continue to engage in ways to open up access and create pathways for all learners.” In partnership with tribal colleges in the area, and rural and urban schools throughout the region, they provide support to diversify the pipeline of incoming technicians. “The need for diversity, equity and inclusion in STEM education and STEM fields has never been greater or more urgent.”
Northeast Minnesota – Preparing Today’s Youth For Technology’s Future Workforce
SOAR Career Solutions is preparing residents for IT careers through its third IT Support Specialist training class. According to the SOAR Career Solutions website, the IT Basic Support Training is an online training that they offer individuals who are interested in pursuing a career in the IT field, getting their foot in the door for pursuing an education in IT, or finding employment as a Help Desk specialist (or something similar). Some of the graduates of this course have moved on to becoming digital navigators for local community organizations.
Southwest Minnesota - South Central College and Technology
South Central College continues their focus on bringing cutting-edge technologies to the region to improve and expand educational opportunities for students, so they are best prepared to meet the needs of employers.
The North Mankato campus recently had significant improvements thanks to a $13 million renovation project, which included facilities enhancements and new labs and classrooms.
SCC’s new state-of-the-art labs impact programs for welding, mechatronics, agribusiness and health sciences and are filled with new equipment that mirrors what students will use when they enter the workforce.
In addition to State of Minnesota funding, South Central College also received generous financial contributions from local companies who recognize that the college’s ability to produce qualified employees requires advanced facilities and equipment. These include:
- Three Mankato Clinic Health Sciences Labs that enrich our students’ education in the nursing and allied health professions. Through the use of advanced simulation facilities, equipment and interactive mannequins, they’re able to expand their learning opportunities to ensure they have the in-demand skills to be successful in the workforce.
- A new Crystal Valley Agribusiness Lab features updated technology to educate the region’s next generation of agricultural professionals. Additionally, SCC has implemented a new Advanced Ag Technology (AAT) certificate program responding to the increasing technology needs of the agribusiness industry. This program combines agriculture with mechatronics to establish an industry-ready, advanced agricultural workforce and expand career pathways for graduates.
- A new Jones Metal Welding Lab, which expands the pool of manufacturing talent in the area. Built with contributions not only from Jones Metal, but five other area companies, the space now has 20 welding booths with the latest ventilation technology. Booths are video-enabled so instructors are able to offer guidance and keep their distance. Four of the booths have video capabilities which has been a great help during the pandemic.
As a result of the pandemic, the college transitioned more courses to online delivery methods. But even before that, South Central College was a leader in this area. For example, through technology developed by the college called iMEC, students gain hands-on experience in mechatronics using specialized kits and online exercises. In addition, the college’s workforce development division, the SCC Center for Business and Industry utilizes a technology called LiveOnline to deliver instruction to employees right in their workplaces. Online capabilities have also expanded into career exploration with SCC participating in many virtual career fairs and migrating its 9th Grade Career Navigator program, a collaboration between South Central Service Coop, to a completely online model.
Southeast Minnesota – Introducing BIPOC Youth to Technology
BDPA (Black Data Processing Associates) is an international organization with a diverse membership of professionals and students at all levels in the fields of information technology, computer science and related STEM fields. Members are actively engaged in serving the community through outreach and charting the future of the IT industry. In addition to a chapter in the Twin Cities, BDPA has a chapter located in Rochester, Minnesota. One of the services associated with the Southern Minnesota Chapter of BDPA is BDPAStudents.com. BDPAStudents focuses on three pillars: teaching, learning, and collaborating.
Central Minnesota – Making An Impact
Nemadji Research - In the small town of Bruno, which has a population of 99 people, is the headquarters of Nemadji Research Corporation. Nemadji offers IT solutions that increase net revenue and decrease uncompensated care for hospitals and healthcare providers. Nemadji combines the extensive expertise of their team with advanced logic, proprietary data-mining technology, and unique match methodologies to “see what others miss,” finding sources of revenue that get lost in healthcare facilities’ books.
Nemadji was founded in 1985 by Becky and the late Gene Lourey and the organization continues to be family owned and community focused. They also established a nonprofit organization, Community Connections Allies, which provides Senior Dining and Meals-on-Wheels in Northern Pine County as well as affordable family childcare for the community.
Great North Ventures - Great North Ventures is an IT organization that invests in entrepreneurs using breakthrough technologies to innovate industries dominated by inefficient processes. By drawing on decades of operating experience, navigating networks, and implementing investment intelligence, our team guides startups to scale and exits, which can be anywhere in the world.
Brothers Ryan and Rob Weber are managing partners and cofounders of Great North Ventures, which has one of their locations in Sartell. They are also Co-Founders of NativeX (FKA W3i/Freeze).