Hutchinson had plenty to brag about Friday when U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar visited Midwest Industrial Tool Grinding Inc.

“In 2017, Hutchinson High School will be hands down the best equipped in Minnesota,” said Miles Seppelt, Hutchinson’s Economic Development Director.

He was speaking of upcoming improvements to the school’s Career and Technical Education area, courtesy of $1.2 million from numerous local partners in manufacturing, grants and investments from the school and city.

“These people are putting their money where their mouth is,” he said.

The boost to education is part of an effort to address a common problem: Manufacturers have jobs, but not enough trained talent to fill the positions needed. That’s because the job market doesn’t reflect the kinds of skills or education many high school graduates pursue.

In a conference room at MITGI, which included local business leaders, city staff and MITGI management, Klobuchar was told that Hutchinson has the solution.

“Here in Hutchinson our premise is the solution is right in front of us,” Seppelt said.

Local students are being taught that manufacturing isn’t what it used to be, and that the conventional wisdom of a four-year degree may not always be the best plan these days. For every job that requires a master’s degree, Seppelt said, two require a bachelor’s degree, and seven call for a one-year certificate, or a two-year degree.

Klobuchar pointed out that along with the job market shifting toward technical skills, the cost of four-year degrees continues to increase.

At Hutchinson High School, students are able to pick a “TigerPath” in which teachers partner with local businesses to steer students through curriculum built to let them test out career plans.

Right now, Hutchinson High School students can dive into the Science, Technology, Robotics, Engineering, Arts and Math Academy, the Sci Hi Academy to learn about science and health care, the Business Academy to learn about the business world, or the Human Services path to learn about public service opportunities. These TigerPath Academics give students a chance to progress through increasingly advanced skills and information to see if some of the largest fields are a good fit.

This coming year, Hutchinson High School will have seven sections of welding, filled by 103 students.

“That’s really impressive,” Klobuchar said.

Meanwhile, MITGI has spent recent years trying a new approach with paid job shadowing for students.

“Really, paid job shadowing?” Klobuchar said.

“It’s common sense when you think about it,” said Mary Hodson, president of the Hutchinson Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism.

“Usually they end up working here after they do job shadowing,” said Sheila Murphy, human resources director at MITGI.

MITGI has also opened its doors for student tours during MEA break, and other times. MITGI staff shared that one employee started down a path that led to employment at their facility after bringing his little brother on a tour. Sponsored scholarships have also helped to place MITGI on the map for job seekers.

MITGI’s efforts to foster and recruit employees has been noticed. It was named in the Star Tribune’s 2016 Top 150 Workplaces among companies with 50 to 149 employees. The workplaces were selected based solely on feedback from employees.

“Are you able to get some more girls involved?” Klobuchar asked. “The more we can get women role models out there (the better).”

During the tour that followed the meeting, she learned that not only is most of MITGI’s managing team comprised of women, but many women work in other positions as well.