Creating interactive and engaging career exploration opportunities for youth started in 2014 with Wunderkammers. Over the course of 5 years, more than 750 youth and parents would attend these opportunities to learn about new careers. This Roseville Firefighter shows interested youth seeking careers that public safety is an important aspect of their work. 

October is Minnesota Manufacturing month. These teens were stunned to discover the amazing career opportunities available to them at Graco, right in their North Minneapolis area–across the bridge in Northeast. Graco provides internships, apprenticeships and opportunities to earn and learn to advance. 

Urban Roots is one of the oldest and most robust programs in the Twin Cities. On the East side of St. Paul, Urban Roots supports more than 75 Right Track youth and their families each summer in several programs. The Rivoli Urban Farm provides produce for their CSA, for families and for student research. 

In 2014 Sundance started providing links between employers and nonprofit youth development agencies. Here youth from Cookie Cart, Appetite for Change and other nonprofits visit local industry. They are finally in the buildings that they pass by everyday. Most had no idea what was going on inside the walls, and never imagined having a wonderful career so close to home. 

Elpis Enterprise youth visited Structural Wood in St. Paul MN. The president and owner was amazed at the questions that the youth had about working with wood. “What types of drills?” “How do they joyce pieces?” Never having known about Elpis Enterprise, a partnership was created. Structural Wood donated cedar fencing needed by the youth for birdhouses. 

Wunderkammers helped young people learn about carpentry and to try a few of the skills they would need. Two local programs, the Finishing Trades Institute and the Carpenter Training Program in St. Paul provide hands on instruction, as well as many of the local community colleges. 

Dunwoody Technical College helps youth try their hand at welding. Interestingly, young women who have experience working on nails and cosmetology have the exact skills needed for welding. However, they typically aren’t exposed to this career pathway. 

Minneapolis/St Paul is home to a large biotech community. Students in high school with an interest in biology, typically don’t get to see the careers that they could have right here. Corporations are just starting to develop registered apprenticeships which are approved and supported by the state of Minnesota–often with grant money to employers. This young woman is experiencing what she would do in quality control for small circuit boards. 

Virtual reality is the 21st Century way to learn skills that can then be transfered to real life settings. For example, Softec in Siren WI helps students through a 12 week course and a certificate as a heavy equipment operator. These students are then hired by employers like Meyer Construction. Within a short time, they are earning enough to support a family. In low income areas it is reported that they are earning enough to support 10 people. 

In 2019 Sundance Family Foundation produced a 54 minute documentary about youth who took the “Earn and Learn” approach to finding skilled jobs. The Documentary was nominated for a Midwest Emmy in 2020. These two students became pharmacy technicians which ultimately set them up for customer relation management and most recently hospital scheduling. 

Armani’s journey from a teenager with a challenging family life, through Urban Roots, to her corporate positions was highlighted in the films by Sundance Family Foundation. Both Changemakers and Investment documented the can do spirit of youth who were finding pathways to solid careers, stability, and interesting futures. 


 In May 2019 the Sundance Family Foundation celebrated 78 young people who had chosen to “Earn and Learn” to interesting careers. Also honored where 56 employers with Earn and Learn opportunities from financial management, to marketing, customer relations, manufacturing, trades, and public service.  

The Small Engine Repair program in Lake Forest produced a number of students who worked with skilled repair people. Several went on to get degrees at the Alexandria Community College before signing on with a large manufacturing firm in Forest Lake. Unfortunately this amazing program folded because they could not find the funds to support it. Perhaps more employers could invest in these types of programs and reap the benefit of local skilled talent. 

Design Ready Control in Brooklyn Park brought on a cohort of 10 students from Summit Academy in January of 2019. In June, all but one were still on the job–the one had a family emergency and was coming back. By September 6 were enrolled in classes at Hennepin Technical College which they took on site as they both advanced through the company and gained new engineering skills. 

Programs like Summit Academy OIC provide students with wrap around supports, supportive instructors, and pride as they work their way out of low income jobs. This Federally subsidized program has launched several technical programs where students can gain the skills needed to enter dozens of highly paid local careers in technology. 

Manufacturing in Minnesota is different than in other places. Employees will not spend their lives doing one particular task. Infact, they often work on teams to create a variety of custom products. 

The Saint Paul Police Department realized that asking officers to get their two year degree before entering the force kept many eager low income candidates out of policing. So, they got creative. They employed students as CSO (Community Safety Officers) and as Americorp workers. They adjusted hours so that students could then attend college to gain the required degrees. 

Hennipen Technical College, Dunwoody Technical College, St. Paul College, Dakota Technical College have amazing programs that many student and their parent have never explored. These programs put students into dynamic fields because they work closely with employers. These schools discover what employers need and provide training on new equipment.