DEED kicks off Summer of Jobs campaign in Mankato, highlights manufacturing

Jun. 15—MANKATO — Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove visited Jones Metal Inc. Tuesday to kick off the Summer of Jobs campaign in Mankato.

The campaign, which begins with a focus on manufacturing, aims to connect employers and job seekers amid record high job vacancies, the department said.

"Welding, which is a very specific occupation, has, as we looked up this morning, 850 openings across the state," Grove said.

Jones Metal, a Mankato-based metal fabricator that is celebrating its 80th anniversary Wednesday, said the company is feeling the impacts of the labor shortage.

"It's hard. We have certain areas in manufacturing in our production facility that are really difficult to find people for. Machining and running a CNC machining center, that's the hardest spot to fill," said Sarah Richards, Jones Metal CEO and co-owner. "It's a complicated technical manufacturing position, and it really does require some schooling and experience before you're proficient at it."

Richards said the company has had to adapt to having fewer people.

"It's not that we wanted to, but it's just been forced on us. We've turned to automating things that normally would not be automated," she said. "When I first came back to the family business, which is about 14 years ago now, I was surprised at all of the things that I sort of took for granted that are made by somebody. I use them every day, but they're made by somebody."

But the company is working to introduce a new generation to manufacturing by partnering with Mankato Area Public Schools to showcase opportunities to students.

"We do everything we can to be in and around those students when we can. And we participate on advisory boards to make sure that we can help them tailor their programs for local manufacturing. That partnership is really important because we love to be able to take students in as interns and really show them, expose them to manufacturing. And then we love to hire them full time once they graduate," Richards said.

Mankato West graduate Paige Christianson, who now works at Jones Metal after interning with the company in high school, was among employees who met with Grove on Tuesday.

Christianson told the commissioner she's considering a career in the field.

"It's different," Christianson said. "I like it a lot."

"We need more young people diving into these careers," Grove told her.

Kim Mueller, Mankato Schools career pathway coordinator, said exposure to careers that students may not have been in contact with before is important.

Mueller said the district has about 10 students who go through their welding training program every year.

"Most of them will end up working in the field or going to school in the field," she said. "For a student to get an opportunity in high school to see what their future could look like is very important because it could change their trajectory overall."