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At a press conference on Tuesday at the University of Mary, Brian Opp spoke about the the school's new Workforce Development Initiative, which is charged with cultivating relationships between higher education and business leaders. Opp will oversee the program. 

The University of Mary’s plan to use $2 million from a $5 million donation from Energy Transfer Partners on a workforce development program fits the needs of the state.

U-Mary President Monsignor James Shea said Tuesday the university is responding to a call by Gov. Doug Burgum to help recruit, train and retain employees. "As we hear the clarion call of the governor around workforce development, we know that (the university) can assist with that great effort," Shea told a Tuesday press conference.

Late last year Job Service North Dakota reported about 2,000 job openings just in this area.

"There really isn't an industry that isn't being touched right now," Nate Schneider, director of business development for the Bismarck-Mandan Chamber EDC, told reporter Jessica Holdman.

The Chamber EDC has hired a full-time workforce development coordinator in an effort to attract talent to the Bismarck-Mandan area. The Chamber EDC also has the workforce-related Make Your Mark marketing campaign that has focused on filling jobs in occupations with a high number of openings.

The University of Mary has used the Energy Transfer funding to create a workforce development team headed by Brian Opp, a workforce development strategist. He has two others working with him. The Greater North Dakota Chamber is helping the team contact employers across North Dakota to compile a list of workforce development needs. After gathering the information the team will prepare a report on what’s needed and share it with other educational institutions.

"The point is higher education needs to know where and how we can help," Opp told the press conference. U-Mary will use the report to develop education and training programs.

There’s no doubt about the necessity to recruit talent. Burgum noted at one meeting that if all the available jobs in the state were filled there would be enough people for a city the size of Jamestown. That’s a good way to highlight the problem.

Chris Curia, executive vice president of human resources for Energy Transfer Partners, expressed the company’s faith in U-Mary on Tuesday, saying, "We feel that the University of Mary is the right institution to lead this effort, and we're very confident that our funds are going to be spent wisely."

The University of Mary program is another step toward solving the workforce problem. It’s going to take multiple efforts across the state to draw the necessary workers. Some will come through our schools and others from out of state. Hopefully we can lure former North Dakotans back home.

The university and Energy Transfer Partners should be applauded for their efforts.

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