Meeting a need: Sen. Klobuchar helps secure $1.97M to help RCC meet workforce needs

Published 8:15 pm Friday, September 15, 2023

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Not long after the college received just under $2 million in federal funding, advocated for by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Riverland Community College didn’t waste any time putting the money to good use.

During a visit to the Austin campus Friday afternoon, Klobuchar heard from officials at the school what the $1.9 million is being allocated for, which not only will boost educational benefits at the school’s three locations in Austin, Albert Lea and Owatonna, but also help augment the effort of getting people into the workforce.

“I really prioritized this grant just because of the workforce issues,” Klobuchar told the officials before getting a tour of the nursing and construction facilities. “How can we help you to get students to come here and get degrees?”

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According to Barb Embacher, vice president of Academic and Student Affairs, most of the money will go toward equipment.

That  includes one semi already purchased for the trucking program based in Albert Lea, as well as plans for a second semi and a passenger bus.

Money has also secured equipment needed for the fledgling Robotics, Automation and Engineering program that’s being established on both Albert Lea and Owatonna campuses.

Embacher said without this funding, getting these necessary elements would have been difficult.

“We’ve been doing the truck driving program for years, but to a pretty small number of students every year. This is going to help us train a lot more,” she said. “The Robotics, Automation, Engineering program — we would never have the kind of start-up money to buy all the equipment needed to get a high tech program like that into place.”

The money allocated to Riverland Community College is part of what is considered congressionally initiated projects and through these types of projects the process of getting money to where it needs to be is streamlined.

It enables everybody to get a better jump on utilizing the funds.

“They’ve already applied when they submitted to us and they don’t have to go through such a rigmarole,” Klobuchar said. “We’re able to figure out the exact needs for our state in a way I don’t think the bureaucracy in Washington can do.”

“I just love seeing what they’ve already done with it,” she continued. “There’s no delays.”

Part of the money will also be used to bolster existing programs like Riverland’s Learn and Earn Program that opens doors for students to both go to school as well as get on the job training while being paid for it.

Through Learn and Earn, the school further establishes important community connections that continues to refine a streamlined approach to getting workers into the field where they are needed.

It’s a step Klobuchar believes is vitally needed both state and nationwide.

“These kinds of programs, we need to expand them basically,” Klobuchar said. “We need to have more Riverlands and we need to allow this program to expand because you have so many young people who are coming up in the world, and you want to make sure they make some financially smart decisions in terms of what they are doing with their education.”

Klobuchar added that there also needs to be an expansion of apprenticeship programs, as well as a rational approach to immigration that would ease the process of gaining work permits to continue to grow the workforce.

“No great nation has been able to expand with a shrinking workforce,” Klobuchar said. “We just need to vet people, get that done and then we’re going to be better off.”

The urgency of bolstering the workforce and the needs of employers is not going to be solved overnight and it’s because of that that Embacher feels it’s so important that legislators like Klobuchar see where the money is going to.

“It’s really important that we connect our legislators with where their money is going,” she said. “There is a lot of competition for funding support all over the place. Workforce challenges our businesses are facing are real. They are real and the best return on investment of our taxpayer’s money is truly programs like we’re talking about today. It’s not long range. It’s really immediate and it’s really tailored to our companies in our backyard.”