Tomorrow’s Opportunities for Wadena County’s Workforce Made Possible Today

Tomorrow’s Opportunities for Wadena County’s Workforce Made Possible Today Main Photo

28 Sep 2023


Demand for manufacturing workers has been extremely high for several years in Minnesota. Local opportunities for career and technical education or general workforce development in Wadena County exist, offering nearly 100% placement, excellent wages and exciting careers in local companies. 

“There is a growing concern in the manufacturing industry of the knowledge that could be lost with an aging workforce and a lack of younger employees,” said Jim Tyrrell, Machine Tools Technologies instructor at Central Lakes College (CLC) - Staples. “There is a real need for people willing to pick up that knowledge and progress into the future, not just bodies to run machines.”

Minnesota State Community and Technical College (M State) and CLC offer those opportunities in Wadena County to students looking for exciting hands-on jobs with area employers without accumulating the debt so prominent with four-year degree programs.

M State

In 2023, M State is celebrating its 20th anniversary of the collaboration of the Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls, Moorhead and Wadena campuses.  

“We are focused on providing mutually beneficial relationships for student development and opportunities for local employers to build their workforce,” said Shannon Britten, Associate Director of Advancement and Development with the M State Foundation. “98% of our students stay in the community once they graduate.”

The Wadena campus has several notable programs led by faculty from their respective industry. Some of the most prominent include:

Electrical Lineworker

The Electrical Lineworker Technology program is the largest program on the Wadena campus with over 90 students, also in existence for 56 years. The school has a 90-acre training field set up with poles for climbing, underground substations and donated bucket trucks from area electrical cooperatives. Students participate in a one-year diploma or two-year A.A.S. degree option, each providing opportunities in the electrical power industry.  

Electrical Technology

The Electrical Technology program prepares students for electrician roles in various industries. The program provides a two-year diploma with nearly 100% placement rates and has existed on-site for 54 years. This year, there are close to 60 students. Who receive instruction on the maintenance of electrical equipment, wiring methods, blueprint reading, material selection, programmable controllers and the National Electric Code.


The Nursing program is offered in all four locations. The Wadena campus has a new hospital setting with ten beds, thanks to a 2019 capital campaign and primary donor Astera Health. Students can pursue an Associate Degree in Nursing and a Licensed Practical Nurse to Associate Degree Nursing Bridge, where students can access state-of-the-art equipment like patient simulators, where faculty can simulate symptoms for students to practice with. 

Forefront of technological development

CLC is a comprehensive community and technical college with many degrees and career/technical programs. The Machine Tools Technologies program was paused for the 2022-23 school year but is gaining momentum again this year, with the hiring of a new instructor, Jim Tyrrell, a 1995 graduate with more than 25 years of industry experience. His father was an instructor in the program, and Tyrrell looks forward to introducing students who like working with their hands to the possibilities existing in machining.

“CLC has a long history of providing the needed workers for the large companies and a multitude of small shops in the region,” Tyrrell said. “The bulk of machinists working in the region came from this facility.”

Declining enrollment led to last year’s pause, but the need for machinists gives hope for the future. 

“Machine shops are at the forefront of technological development,” said Tyrrell. “The parts for popular products like cell phones, utility vehicles or snowmobiles do not just magically appear. Many are made in the machine shops right here in Wadena County.”

Today, CLC offers three programs in its Machine Tool Technologies - CNC Technologies A.A.S. Degree, CNC Technologies Diploma and Machine Operations Diploma - that offer student hands-on training. CLC is now working closely with local machine shops to develop pathways for tuition reimbursements and internships. Opportunities like these are showing the significant need for machinists in this area. Great machining jobs with excellent pay are available right now with area manufacturers. The programs overlap with others in Robotics/Automated Systems Technology and Welding/Fabrication Technology, providing even more learning opportunities.  

Learning made possible

Each school offers numerous resources and services to help students, regardless of financial situation, enroll and complete their desired pathways through scholarships and grants like Minnesota Future Together.

“Very few potential students should be scared away from school due to lack of money,” said Tyrrell. “Beyond available grants, many manufacturers are willing to pay for schooling for individuals who show interest and commitment to learning.”