For those who read the Star Tribune and local papers around Ridgewater, it’s not news that rural Minnesota is facing dramatic shifts in population and demographics over the next few decades. These challenges are not unique to Minnesota, but Minnesota has greater opportunities in its rural areas compared to many others.
We see a drop in population in many smaller communities and an aging of the traditional population. At the same time we have vibrant employers who need a better educated workforce to grow and thrive. These two factors provide a challenge if you look at the issue traditionally.
Ridgewater’s RITA team has tried to look at it differently and has been reaching out to an incredible strength in rural Minnesota—our immigrant communities. The Education and Employment Advisors have been reaching out to different communities in central Minnesota to provide information to those communities, but also find out what the needs of the communities are.
The Education and Employment Advisors have reached out to three local communities in the Willmar area to engage them in a discussion of what RITA and Ridgewater can offer, but also what they might need. Ben Larson set up an information session at the Somali Star, a local restaurant in downtown Willmar. It serves as both a restaurant and a community gathering place. In one information session at the Somali Star we had more interest than in all of the sessions held at the college itself.
Nate Erickson organized a similar session in Milan which has a sizeable Micronesian population. Again, Nate was able to find more interest in one session than we have seen in multiple sessions on campus. Not only was there interest in RITA, but also in a potential citizenship class by Ridgewater’s Customized Training. While these results have been gratifying, we should not be surprised that by meeting people where the live, work, and socialize, we have better luck in being able to generate interest.
While the demographic trends are challenging in rural Minnesota, we have incredibly exciting and new opportunities to develop new pools of talent to meet the needs in our workforce.