Nonprofit organizations and government entities came together with community members Friday at the RCTC Heintz Center to discuss how Latinos and other communities of color can be more effectively integrated into the local workforce.

About 40 community members attended the program, including Mayor Ardell Brede; Minnesota representatives Tina Liebling and Kim Norton; state senators Carla Nelson and David Senjem; and Rochester Public Schools Superintendent Michael Muñoz.

The afternoon consisted of a lunch with Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio ( CLUES) and a program with various presenters, followed by a community question and answer session.

CLUES is a Twin Cities-based nonprofit organization that focuses on providing access to resources and services for the Latino community. Although it does not offer services in the Rochester area, Carla Kohler, community health worker services manager, emphasized that from a health perspective, there is great opportunity to serve the Latino community in Rochester.

She indicated that for some individuals, enrolling in a health insurance plan through the MNsuremarketplace can be a daunting and confusing task.

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"Sometimes, even English speakers find the process difficult, and there is no bilingual component … although we don't offer services in the Rochester area, we want to foster a partnership (with the Rochester community) and plant the seed," Kohler said.

Other presentations throughout the afternoon focused heavily on the changing workforce and the importance of the participation of minority community members. Minnesota State Demographer Susan Brower outlined a projectionshowing that as the "Baby Boomer" generation ages out of the workforce and fewer young people enter the workforce, a gap will emerge where employers can no longer readily find employees.

"Companies will have to be bringing all productive workers in. We are not going to be able to marginalize people like we have in the past, whether intentionally or unintentionally," Brower said.

Jeremy Hanson Willis, deputy director of Workforce Development of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, said that while state employment statistics are improving, minority populations still face obstacles to employment.

He cited higher unemployment numbers among minorities compared to state averages, as well as a disparity in academic achievement as contributing to a "talent gap." Although there are more jobs and fewer workers, minority workers still face barriers to finding "family-sustaining" employment.

Willis' department plans to adopt a two-sided approach for improvement by working with both individuals to prepare them for jobs and with employers to learn what kinds of skills are needed.

"We need to let people know where the jobs are, and we want to make sure there are jobs waiting for them," Willis said.

The Emerging Workforce Coalition, a group of eight nonprofit organizations that serve communities of color, hosted a panel to speak about their efforts and challenges in improving minority employment involvement. Four representatives from different organizations spoke on their experiences conducting focus groups in the area, opening up opportunities for minority members, and addressing the needs of different groups of color in the area, including the growing Somali-American community.