Minn. companies are "building" new workers from scratch

(CBS News) ST. PAUL, Minn. - We previously reported that one thing holding back the economic recovery is there just aren't enough skilled workers. But some companies have decided if they can't find qualified employees, they'll just create them -- as we found out in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Jen Guarino is the CEO of J.W. Hulme Company in St. Paul, Minnesota, a leather goods manufacturer. While the business is booming, there are not enough workers to fill spots.
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At the J.W. Hulme Company in St. Paul, Minnesota, the empty seats at sewing machines tell the story of the biggest challenge for this booming leather goods manufacturer.

CEO Jen Guarino has enough demand to run a second shift, but not enough workers. And what's stopping her now from having a new sewer in the seat? "We can't find them," she said.

Neither can 60 other companies in Minnesota looking to fill more than 100 jobs. So they banded together with a local trade school to form the Makers Coalition to train the next generation of highly-skilled sewers. If students complete the 22-week course, they're guaranteed a job.

"And what's amazing about it," said Guarino, "is that you can build something and sometimes they don't come. We're building it and they're coming."

When Larry Corbesia finishes the course, this 60-year-old former construction worker will have his first full-time job with benefits in 17 years.

Sixty-year old Larry Corbesia is a participant in the Makers Coalition program, making a transition from working in construction to sewing.
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"I was just talking to somebody about that," said Corbesia about his transition from being a construction worker to a sewer. "I go, 'I don't feel too manly telling people I'm a sewer,' you know?" (laughs)

But this is nothing to laugh about -- not for a guy raising his 12-year-old granddaughter. They were homeless just two months ago.

"Just probably on welfare," he said of where he might have been without the program, "you know, $200 a month in food stamps."

Tuition is $4,000, but the coalition provides scholarships. Later this month, the first class will graduate 18 students.

How does that compare to building a successful business? "It's bigger," said Guarino. "It's bigger. It's more important."

For companies needing highly-skilled workers, it is a way to do good while ensuring they do well.

For more information on the Makers Coalition, visit their website.

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.