MOORHEAD – Area employers told U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., during his visit here Monday that they need more workers to fill jobs in the industrial and health care fields.

Employers from companies including Sanford Health, D&M Industries and American Crystal Sugar told Franken at Minnesota State Community and Technical College that they are worried about filling the region’s labor demand.

They also spoke about “upskilling,” or giving current employees more training in their fields at institutions like the technical college in Moorhead.

“What we’re seeing is all these businesses need skilled people to fill jobs,” Franken said. “There’s a skills gap in this country.”

He said community and technical colleges partnering with businesses is one way to close the gap.

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Franken started his visit at MSCTC by touring the school and talking with instructors and administrators.

Employers said many of their employees are nearing retirement and there’s no influx of younger workers clamoring for jobs.

There is also a problem with a mindset a lot of parents instill in their high school students that doesn’t help alleviate the workforce shortage.

Employers said most parents still want their children to attend a four-year college to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Franken said he wants to get the message across to parents and students that several industries are expanding and there’s a lot of available jobs.

“You don’t necessarily have to go to a four-year college to get a good middle-class job,” Franken said.

He said going to a community college isn’t a ceiling but a pathway to other opportunities.

“The skills gap here in Minnesota does really glisten; I saw it very plain as day today in Moorhead,” Franken said.

Tom Boyle, president of Moorhead-based D&M Industries, said employers are competing with each other for skilled workers.

He said a lot of workers they do find are those who just moved to the area.

The employers Franken spoke to agreed that technical education is a solution to their problem. Expanded job training programs can help close the skills gap and reduce the worker shortage, they said.

Franken ended his visit by announcing that $2.47 million in grant funding will be put toward job training programs in the Minnesota State University System.