JACKSON — U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s staff visited Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Jackson Thursday morning to discuss local initiatives to improve workers’ skills and the difficulties businesses face during their hiring processes.

Jackson was the first stop of the second day of the Minnesota Workforce Tour, during which Klobuchar’s staff has been connecting with local business and education leaders in a number of cities in southern Minnesota.

Sandy Demuth, workforce development career specialist at the Workforce Center in Worthington, shared some of the Workforce Center initiatives designed to prepare future employees. Financial assistance for educational training and grants are among the strategies it has implemented to fill the gap for skilled workers, especially in the areas of welding, industrial tech, mechatronics and health.

Demuth highlighted some of the barriers that employees face — such as childcare, language and a lack of transportation — and noted some of the methods implemented to overcome those difficulties. She explained the Workforce Center has been working with Monogram Meat Snacks in Chandler, as the company had been struggling to get workers because of their inability to drive. The company began to provide transportation to employees, which was a successful method to address the problem.

“They were finding shortfalls in Monogram because a lot of people didn’t have driver’s licenses … almost 100 people were lacking because they couldn’t drive,” Demuth said.

In addition, Demuth added that to ease some of the language barriers, the Workforce Center has started the process of certifying translators to help address the needs of non-English speakers.

Daycare was another topic of discussion. Garrison McMurtrey, a Klobuchar staff member, said the issue has been the “top barrier” in all the cities they have visited.

“My daughter's friend was going to have a baby and she paid $75 per week since the moment she found she was pregnant to save her spot in a daycare center,” Demuth said.

Employees are facing not only accessibility issues for daycare facilities, but affordability concerns as well.

“We had a nurse practitioner that turned down the job because we couldn't find a daycare for her son,” said Dawn Schnell, chief nursing officer at Sanford Jackson Medical Center. “It’s a real barrier.”

An additional barrier Schnell and Roxanne Hayenga, Minnesota West Community Development  Program Coordinator, cited was finding reliable workers. They noted that after companies cover training costs, many workers don't show up to do the job.

“We have partnered with several different businesses and when you talk about investing in that training and then they leave… what we encourage employers to do is find these people who are already in a lower job and grow your own,” Hayenga said, adding that those employees have already proven their commitment to the company.

Demuth also talked about adversity some employers face with an apprenticeship programs initiative recently pushed by Klobuchar. A $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor was intended to strengthen partnerships between Minnesota community colleges and local businesses to expand apprenticeship programs. Demuth said there are incentives for companies to be part of apprenticeship programs, but the paperwork is overwhelming for them.

“That’s something we have been hearing — it’s that a lot of business want to take on apprenticeships, but the whole process itself is pretty daunting for folks,” McMurtrey said.