Minnesota has added jobs in eight of the past 12 months.
It's still not enough, Matt Varilek, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), said at an event to kick off Workforce Development Month in the state.
The message is not new, but state and city officials hammered it home Wednesday as Gov. Tim Walz traveled to the Iron Range to laud two state-funded expansions and Varilek and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey helped kick off a job fair at the north Minneapolis CareerForce center.
During the past legislative session, DEED secured more than $216.5 million for the state's employment and training programs over the next two years. Now, additional time and resources are being spent to ensure workers and employers can find each other and make connections.
Right now, low unemployment "means employers can't hire as many great employees as they would like, which makes the all-important topic of workforce development even more important," Varilek said.
Recruiters from Caterpillar, General Mills, BNSF Railway, Hilton, Marsden, Delta Dental, Tennant Company, the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office, Wells Fargo, Michael Foods and M Health Fairview were just a few of those sniffing for talent during the massive job and resource fair.
Walz, meanwhile, visited the expanding electric-vehicle parts firm Detroit Diesel Remanufacturing in Hibbing. The project, for which the state provided $10 million in loans and $500,000 in grants, will create 18 new jobs and hundreds of construction jobs.
The governor also visited the construction site of the new Chisholm Public Safety Building, a project funded through an infrastructure package signed into law last session.
The statewide events marked the start of a monthlong campaign to let Minnesotans know the state is serious about helping employers discover hard-to-find workers and about ushering low-wage workers into training and better-paying jobs.
Matching training opportunities with supportive services is what is needed to secure high-paying jobs and meaningful careers, said Leona Martin, a CareerForce job service supervisor, to the crowd at the center at 800 W. Broadway.
She noted that not only were job counselors there to review resumes and link job seekers with recruiters, but the center had also provided a food shelf, dental and blood pressure checkups, and a series of services for U.S. veterans and community members.
If successful, the combined efforts of the workforce centers across Minnesota will help employers who have long complained of crippling shortages of skilled workers, state officials said.
At 3.1%, the state unemployment rate is still near historic lows, and employers say the tight labor market has stifled company growth and caused lengthy vacancies in critical areas.
While speaking to the recruiters, Varilek noted the state is investing significantly in programs that help low-income people, people of color and young job seekers bypass certain barriers to employment. It is separately investing in programs that train job candidates for high-demand positions in technology, health care, education, manufacturing, building trades and clean energy.
Frey praised CareerForce in north Minneapolis.
"This particular place has helped shift the paradigm as to how we deliver services in this city and on the North Side and making sure we are meeting people where they are to provide the boatload of jobs that we presently have available," Frey said. "This is a celebratory occasion."
Frey also noted the work of other workforce development outfits such as Step Up, Right Track, Hired, Goodwill Industries and Project for Pride in Living.
Government officials were not the only ones buoyed by the kickoff.
"We have about 200 openings right now including for nurses, nursing assistants, IT services and other roles. And we've gotten quite a few candidates, so it's been a good day," said Audreyanna Garrett, the talent strategist at North Memorial Health's booth at the job fair.
Others were also delighted by the turnout.
"I have three immediate openings in this neighborhood, a teller and personal banker positions to fill. I grew up around the block from here, so I think this is pretty great," said Wells Fargo recruiter Donna Rubi.
"We like to help the veterans. We are so excited to have that opportunity as well," Rubi told Andrea Lazarich, a supply chain accountant who learned about the job fair from her husband, who is a vet.
Lazarich lost her job when her employer Gedney Foods, relocated a facility to Mexico. She doesn't expect to be unemployed for long. She met eight recruiters from different companies Wednesday.
"This is exciting," she said.