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Arriving for the grant signing ceremony last week are, from left, Dr. Richard Hanson, president of Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College; Paul Moe, director of Minnesota Job Skills Partnership; Roger Stewart, president of Northwoods Bank; Rory Palm, publisher of the Park Rapids Enterprise; Ben Koppelman, president and CEO of St. Joseph's Area Health Services, and Mike Monsrud, president and CEO of Itasca-Mantrap Electric Cooperative.

Performance Improvement Project to begin

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The Minnesota Job Skills Partnership Program has awarded a grant of $49,980 to Optivation, supporting the Park Rapids Performance Improvement Project.

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Under a Community Quality Plan developed by Park Rapids resident and Enterprise Business page columnist Louis Schultz, a consortium of leading community organizations has come together to participate in the pilot project. Schultz will head an instructional team to guide the Park Rapids Enterprise, St. Joseph's Area Health Services, Itasca-Mantrap Electrical Co-Op and Northwoods Bank through six training courses on topics related to quality and process management.

Leadership teams from the four participating organizations will undergo a series of training exercises designed to match processes to customer expectations -- to determine areas in which expectations are not being met, and also areas in which expectations are being exceeded and efficiencies could be identified.

Forty-three managers, member services staff, engineers and bankers are expected to participate in the management training.

The project will be cooperative in nature; Optivation will be providing project management for the Park Rapids pilot program, and also will be gathering information and best practices so it can offer this same program to other organizations in the future. Optivation is operated jointly by Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College.

"The most substantial challenge we face is producing enough skilled workers," Dr. Richard Hanson, president of Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College, said of the role of colleges and universities. "We must train for what's needed.

"BSU," Hanson said, "doesn't consider the qualification of the person coming into the university. What we care about is the change while the student's at BSU."

The university, he said, considers itself "morally responsible" when encasing a student with $30,000 in debt for a liberal arts degree, a field with no jobs.

He noted nearly half of all BSU credits are delivered online. Both institutions, he said, are "measured by what we produce."

"We are excited to be a part of this training," said Roger Stewart, president of Northwoods Bank, anticipating the exercise "will make us a better operation."

"This will provide opportunities to learn ways to better serve our members," said Mike Monsrud, president and CEO of Itasca- Mantrap. The training, he said, will provide ways to integrate ideas for a better work process.

"We are excited to be a part of this innovative project," said Enterprise publisher Rory Palm, joking that he'd be heading out to buy "school supplies" at the conclusion of the meeting.

"We work in a rapidly changing environment," said Ben Koppelman, president and CEO of St. Joseph's. "We are constantly looking for quality improvement methods to serve clients into the future."

The Minnesota Job Skills Partnership Program acts as a catalyst between business and education in developing cooperative training that provides training for new jobs or retraining existing employees. Grants are awarded to educational institutions with businesses as partners.

"We fill the skills gap," explained Paul Moe, director of Minnesota Job Skills Partnership. "This is business-driven training."

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