Last week Minnesota West hosted a conference to discuss the LYFT (Launch Your Future Today) program. LYFT is designed to help grow rural career and technical education (CTE). The program helps high school students explore technical education and build skills and experience they may not have otherwise gotten.

State Senator Bill Weber played a role in helping the program get funding. He told stories about how teachers were coming and telling him about the lack of funding and opportunities. It took three years to get the funding through legislation. He mentioned how he got the former DFL majority leader Thomas Baak to testify on behalf of the bill. (Weber is a Republican.)

Tom Hoff from Southwest and South-Central Service Co-op talked about how the number of CTE teachers, classes, students, and funding were all on downward trends, and the employer demand for skilled employees is rising. The downward funding problem started in the 1970s.

"LYFT is about thriving communities. Young people need to know there are opportunities, and they need the skills to capitalize on them."

In the spring of 2017, YME sent some students into the Intro to Medical Careers class at Minnesota West. Other programs grew from that initial one, including manufacturing and IT. In the fall of 2018 LYFT funding started to kick in.

Lakeview Superintendent Chris Fenske mentioned, "A gap was created in both funding and skills local businesses need. There's also a group of students whose needs weren't being met." He was talking about how a lot of funding had been geared for students to go to four-year schools, cutting incentives and opportunities for other paths.”

The reasons for the partnership with Minnesota way have several layers. Fenske reported that it’s tough to find high school teachers that can teach CTE courses. Weber added that having multiple schools work together along with local businesses is also a requirement for getting state funding.

The broad concept is called “Grow your own.” Businesses work with the schools to get kids the skills and education they need to fill roles in the business.The Chancelor of Minnesota State, Devinder Malhorta, talked about how this type and level of partnership is rare, but crucial. This whole program is trailblazing, and he gave credit to the members involved for starting before funds were available. He wrapped up by answering questions about the importance of sustaining and developing the partnerships between schools, businesses, and programs, as well as reaching out to parents and students that a four-year school isn’t the only path.