ST CLOUD -- St. Cloud commercial printing company Nahan Printing has partnered with St. Cloud State University to help new and current employees sharpen their technical skills.

Nahan Printing cut the ribbon on its new, grant-funded training center, Nahan University, on July 17.

Privately-owned Nahan Printing, located at 7000 Saukview Drive in St. Cloud, specializes in commercial printing, direct mail and digital products for a diverse portfolio of international clients including McDonald's, Neiman Marcus and Lifetime Fitness.

Human Resources Director Julie Nowacki says the company employs 350 full-time workers, runs three shifts per day, and produces products for approximately 200 customers a year.

They're busy. And they're hiring. But, Nowacki says, they are not finding applicants with the correct math and measurement skills to "hit the ground running" on the company production floor.

Last year, in an effort fix this problem, Nahan Printing reached out to St. Cloud State University and described the gap between their specific industrial needs and the skill sets of their current and potential employees.

In March of 2019, the Department of Economic Development and Employment (DEED) awarded St. Cloud State University a Minnesota Job Skills Partnership grant to create training materials specifically for Nahan employees.

"We took it upon ourselves to work with St. Cloud State so we can train (employees)," Nowacki says. "People can come here with basic skills and we'll train the rest."

Tammy Anhalt-Warner, St. Cloud State's Director of Workforce Development, says the training programs and materials for Nahan University were custom-designed by St. Cloud State faculty, and apply specifically to the company's machinery and workflow.

Nahan University (Photo: Abby Faulkner, Townsquare Media)

The Nahan University training lab currently operates in a remodeled area of the manufacturing center. It includes three machines — an inserter, a folder and a cutter — which Nowacki says are the baseline pieces of equipment all employees need to be able to operate, no matter what department they are in.

Nowacki says it's critical that machine operators understand math concepts, like converting numbers into fractions and using measurement tools, and then be able to apply them in a fast-paced manufacturing environment.

She adds, strong mechanical aptitude is key.

"The problem solving, the trouble shooting...we're finding that is just isn't being taught anymore. So, we'll teach them."

Nowacki says the training lab will be open daily with one trainer for every two trainees. She says, the goal is to get new and current employees trained up without placing unnecessary pressure on them to hone those skills while on the production floor.

Nahan University (Photo: Abby Faulkner, Townsquare Media)

"Because of our industry and how we do our jobs, and the stress of getting our jobs out on time, people have a hard time." Nowacki says. "So, we wanted to create an environment where they actually have the time to learn and be able to understand those skills before they're in real life situations where they have to respond very quickly."

"We're going to put them in this space and make them comfortable with doing this type of work. Then, once they go back into production, they'll hit it out of the park."

Nahan University's grant-funded machinery and curriculum will be permanently available to employees. Nowacki says they'll continuously update the equipment and materials to reflect industry trends and needs

Since 2011, St. Cloud State University has collaborated with St. Cloud area companies such as New Flyer, Bernicks and Netgain to deliver grant-funded continuing education programs through the Minnesota Job Skills Partnership. In total, $2.2 million in grants have been received to train approximately 3,800 area workers.