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Minnesota State University, Mankato
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Preparing Students for Manufacturing Jobs

Tour of Manufacturing provided glimpse into future.

Robb Murray, Mankato Free Press, 10-27-2013

Mankato, Minn. -- The Tour of Manufacturing of South Central Minnesota took place Saturday, with on-site tours of 11 different places of interest in the world of area manufacturing.

Crysteel Manufacturing, V-TEK, MTU Onsite Energy, Wells Concrete and other giants of local manufacturing were open for all to walk through, learn about and experience first hand.

But if you wanted a look at one aspect of the future of manufacturing, a good place to stop would have been Minnesota State University, Mankato’s College of Science, Engineering and Technology. Whether you’re interested in the latest technology in 3-D printing or speaking with the young men and women who will make up tomorrow’s work force, Minnesota State Mankato was the place to be.

Kalysha Rivera, a Prior Lake native who came to Minnesota State Mankato because of the reputation of its manufacturing program, said her future is set.

“I already have a job,” she said, “and I’m not even done with school yet.”

She’ll graduate soon and when she does she’ll walk off the graduation ceremony stage and into her new full-time job.

What will make local manufacturing watchdogs even happier is that this new graduate — in addition to being a female in a male-dominated profession — is staying local.

Rivera already works part-time for EI Microcircuits, and when she’s done with school that part-time job will become a full-time job. A local graduate staying local, another worker with skills obtained locally.

Rivera and other students were on hand at Minnesota State Mankato Saturday to demonstrate what they’ve been learning. With a few quick buttons, Rivera sets a robotic arm on the task of grabbing one wooden ball at a time from a grid, and placing it precisely where it’s been programmed to set it.

The exercise is intended to mimic the process of a larger machine pulling objects from one area and placing them on to pallets, something common in the world of manufacturing. Getting a chance to work on this kind of equipment is what makes Minnesota State Mankato a great place to start training for a career in manufacturing, she says, and gives students a taste of what they’ll see in the “real world.”

Gender-wise, she says, she was a definite minority in her department. She said it was a little awkward at first, but she also said she never felt unwelcome in the department.

“I never had an issue,” she said. “Everyone here is great.”

Students like Rivera, if they too choose to stay local, have a vibrant manufacturing environment in which to plant themselves.

Jonathan Zierdt, president and CEO of Greater Mankato Growth, said manufacturing is an area where south central Minnesota does well — better, in fact, than many other areas of the state.

“Almost one in every four jobs are directly linked to manufacturing,” he said. And when the jobs that manufacturing jobs support are factored in, it comes to roughly 60 percent of all area jobs have an either direct or indirect link to manufacturing.

“Manufacturing is a major economic driver,” in south central Minnesota, Zierdt said.

Whether the public’s perception keeps pace, however, is another question.

“I think people drive by and see a bunch of big buildings and don’t really know what’s going on,” Zierdt said. “They’re a major driver of the economy, a source of pride. And it also represents job opportunities.”

According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, 23 percent of all private-sector jobs in south central Minnesota come from manufacturing. As of 2012, nearly 20,000 were employed in manufacturing jobs. And those jobs, on average, pay better. Zierdt said the average weekly wages for manufacturing jobs is $835 for manufacturing jobs, versus the average of $695.

Elsewhere at Minnesota State Mankato, they’re working on the cutting edge of 3-D printing technology.

Brian Martensen, the interim dean of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology, said the university tries to partner with area manufacturers to provide skilled graduates, such as Rivera, who can step right into a job with a decent wage. But they’re also conducting research.

Minnesota State Mankato recently received a donation of a $150,000 3-D printer that creates, basically, whatever you tell it to create. Similar printers in the department work in wax and plastic.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at

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