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Duluth receives $1.1 million to help workers land better jobs

The funds will be used to boost participants' skills and provide them with the credentials they need for new careers.

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A Duluth program focuses on preparing people for new careers, particularly in health care, construction, information technology and manufacturing.
Tyler Schank / 2020 file / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — The city has received funding to help train up workers for new career opportunities in the past, but never before at the scale of assistance it can now offer, thanks to $1.1 million in grants from the Minnesota Department of Economic Development Pathways to Prosperity Program.

Cindy Brown went through the program in 2018, initially planning to enter the health care field as she sought a new start in Duluth. Although her path changed along the way, she credits the program for helping her make professional strides that previously seemed impossible.

Today, Brown works in the St. Louis County Recorder's Office and credits the training she received through the program for helping her to land the job.

"I gleaned a lot of transferable skills: the importance of confidentiality, how to maintain a professional attitude in the office, how to pay attention to detail and things like that. Right now, I'm not in health care. But that class definitely helped me out with this job," she said.

Betsy Hill, a job counselor for the Duluth Workforce Center, said the local program dates back to 2015.


"These grants provide us with an opportunity to continue work that we already started with the help of prior grants and it will allow us to expand upon that work," she said, noting that the program aims to serve 215 people over the next two years.

The program focuses on preparing people for new careers, particularly in four target industries: health care, construction, information technology and manufacturing.

Dwight Wickstrom
Dwight Wickstrom, 56, of Esko, who worked at Georgia-Pacific for 37 years as a maintenance planner, talks in 2017 about how much he appreciates the opportunity to be retrained thanks to a $285,000 grant by the state to Duluth Workforce Development.
Bob King / File / Duluth News Tribune

"Some of the greatest success stories have been people who started with one of these career pathway grants and then have continued on to use some of our additional grant funding to do more training. For instance, we certainly have individuals who started off with the certified nursing assistant classes, became CNAs and then came back to us at Duluth Workforce Development to use some of our federal funding to go on to earn their RN degree," Brown said.

"One of the exciting things in health care is the stackable credentials you can earn," she said.

The Workforce Center offers training with the help of multiple partners, including SOAR Career Solutions, Duluth Adult Education, Lake Superior College, Community Action Duluth and local trade unions, as well as St. Luke's and Essentia Health.


"Each individual is so different, in terms of where they're at when they're at when they come in and what they want to do," said Kristen Jacobus, assistant program director for SOAR.

"We're able to offer them support not just with the hands-on training, which is great, but then looking at assisting with resumes and cover letters, job applications, interviewing, networking and all the things that kind of go along with that," she said.

"We really focus on what each person needs to address their barriers. So, if a person comes in and they have child care that they need to address or if they have transportation needs, we have participant support built into the grant to help with that," Jacobus said.


Harden Henry speaks during Thursday’s Soar Career Solutions graduation at the Carpenters and Joiners Training Center in Hermantown as fellow graduates Axon Walker, Rachel Wallace, Kiah Ahlberg, Isaac Newson, Danon Reives and Tavareous Williams listen. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com
Harden Henry speaks during a SOAR Career Solutions graduation in 2017 at the Carpenters and Joiners Training Center in Hermantown as fellow graduates Axon Walker, Rachel Wallace, Kiah Ahlberg, Isaac Newson, Danon Reives and Tavareous Williams listen.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

Hill said the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily forced the program to change gears. She noted at the beginning of the outbreak, many medical office staff members were laid off. So, it didn't make great sense to be training people for jobs in that field at the time.

But other employers were struggling to fill jobs, including schools in need of paraprofessionals. Hill said they shifted some of the program's funding to offer training for people interested in those jobs, and they also were able to cover the the $90 cost of a requisite test.

Truck drivers are also in high demand, but Hill said the $6,250 cost of a training course at Lake Superior College is out of reach for some people. The program can help cover that tuition.

People must be 18 years old and meet one or more eligibility requirements to participate in the Pathways to Prosperity Program, but Hill said a surprising number of people find they fit the guidelines.

More details are available at duluthmn.gov/workforce-development and at 218-302-8400.

Councilors voted to remove the proposed resolution from their agenda.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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