UNDATED -- More than a dozen leaders in the manufacturing industry in central Minnesota joined officials with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Tuesday for a virtual roundtable discussion on what challenges they're facing.

A common theme is a difficulty in recruiting skilled workers to enter the manufacturing sector. Allison Waggoner is with DCI in St. Cloud. She says there is a perception that manufacturing jobs aren't as good as white-collar jobs...

There's a lot of that you've got to go to real college versus the tech schools. And, I find that when I go out to meet friends, I find it when I meet with these parents. When we've done tours I've taken parents aside and just dealt with the parents, especially when you see that a kid is really interested.

Greg Flint is the Chief Operating Officer at Coldspring formerly known as Cold Spring Granite. He agrees that part of changing the perception of manufacturing is changing the mindset of parents and mentors...

One of the biggest challenges we have is not the children. It's their parents, it's their schools, it's anybody that can give them advice. And when they get turned off, how would they know any different? So, that gets back to that issue of we have to tell the story on why we're the place to go if you want a good career.

Flint says the key is to get to kids at a much younger age to show them manufacturing can be cool with the addition of things like robotics...

Our belief is that you have to start in the elementary schools to create awareness and get the kids interested and understanding that what they're doing can be fun. That they can have a good time. And then when they get to middle school they have to start making decisions about what classes to take in high school.

Many of the business leaders asked for more support from the state to better work with schools and support programs to grow the manufacturing workforce.

October is National Manufacturing Month.

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