Itasca project aims to assure work relevance in curriculum across campus

As part of an initiative by MnSCU, MSU Moorhead will be one of 20 two- and four-year schools in the state of Minnesota participating in an employer-led civic alliance called the Itasca Project, a plan aimed at meeting workforce needs. While participating in this project, MSUM will use two software programs, WANTED Analytics and EMSI, to view regional and statewide statistics on top occupations, employers and desired skill sets.

Dean of the College of Business & Innovation Marsha Weber will lead an on-campus committee through this endeavor. The group will identify external stakeholders to participate in the process and provide input on the data and how MSUM incorporates the information into its planning processes. Together, they will work with Itasca Project leaders to determine how to best use the information acquired to serve workforce and student needs.

Weber said this MnSCU project could not have come at a better time. “We have a new strategic plan for the university that is heavily focused on meeting workforce needs,” she said. “This is where we are; we’ve got the strategic plan; we’re having to cut in some areas, but once that’s all done, where can we focus our efforts, and where are we going to serve our students the best?”

The first program, WANTED Analytics, utilizes data to guide overall workforce strategy, gives access to key HR metrics statewide and lists the average salaries for particular fields in each area, among other information. WANTED Analytics displays the main job demographics for a specific region.

“There are many different qualifiers you can put in,” Weber said. “It will comb and search all of the online ads for jobs in whatever area you define.”

The second program, EMSI, helps organizations understand the connection between economies, people and work and will be used for job forecasting. The program utilizes government data and predicts which jobs will grow in demand and popularity.

In addition to the information gathered by the programs, the committee will seek a greater range of opinions. By working closely with an external group of professionals representing a variety of fields, they will compare the information procured from the software side by side with what area experts look for in potential hires.

“Ultimately, what we’re doing with these packages is we’re trying to determine what jobs are available for students who want to stay in the Fargo-Moorhead area or go to Minneapolis or other areas in Minnesota,” Weber said. “One of the goals of the Itasca project is to be sure that the participants in this have the curricula that are appropriate.”

Although the Itasca Project’s results are for the state of Minnesota only, MnSCU and this software are allowing Fargo to be included in the information because of the close Fargo-Moorhead bond and the number of students who work in the Fargo area.

The duration of the free training pilot for these programs will end after the 2014 spring semester, but if they are found beneficial to institutions across the state, MnSCU may look into buying a more affordable program for continued job-oriented statistics.

“I think it will really help us focus on the future, where we’re going and how we can make our students more prepared to do what they need to do when they leave here.”

The Itasca Project on-campus group includes Provost Anne Blackhurst; Michelle Malott, College of Science Health and the Environment; Tim Borchers, College of Arts, Media and Communications; Randy Cagle, College of Humanities and Social Sciences; Boyd Bradbury, College of Education and Human Services and Graduate Studies; Brittney Goodman, Executive Director of the Library; Sarah Miller, Director of the Career Development Center; Connie Forbord, Institutional Effectiveness; and Denise Gorsline, Associate Vice President of Academic Planning.