FARGO Tyler Knott never saw himself as a great student.

But while taking an automated manufacturing class at Fargo South, he received a handout on Golden Path Solutions, a business that helps match high school students with employers who are searching for raw talent.

Through Golden Path, the manufacturing class and a cousin who already works in a similar field, Knott realized he wanted to be a machinist.

“I’ve always wanted to do something with my hands. I don’t do desk work very well,” Knott told The Forum.

Golden Path’s career “matchmaking” app, Compass, is now available for free to 33,000 student users from 250 different schools throughout the state through a partnership with North Dakota’s Career and Technical Education Department, according to Patrick Mineer, CEO of Golden Path Solutions.

The app also gives students access to 400 participating employers, including companies like RDO Equipment Co., Steffes Manufacturing, Sanford Health, Gate City Bank and the North Dakota Court System.

Using Compass, Knott was connected to Koerber Pharma, where he was given a tour of their operation, encouraged to ask questions about the company and offered a contract.

The agreement stipulated that as long as Knott graduated from the North Dakota State College of Science machinist program, joined Koerber as a paid intern and worked there after graduation, his college tuition would be covered by Koerber and a Bank of North Dakota match.

Knott quickly saw the  benefits of “real world training” in an actual workplace while attending college.

“I could even tell the stuff I was doing in school helped me here, and the stuff I was learning here helped me in school,” he said. “It just meshed together really well.”

After graduating from NDSCS in 2022, Knott joined Koerber’s machining division, which by then had been bought out by Leister Custom Machining and was based in Horace, North Dakota.

Today, the 21-year-old is making $25 an hour, has no student loans and plans to buy a house.

At a time when machinists are in low supply and high demand, the Horace company has attracted and retained Knott, who has turned out to be one of their best machinists, Mineer said.

And Knott has found a job in which he excels. “It really was a perfect storm of things to happen,” he said.

Mineer hopes stories like this will become commonplace in the next few years as Golden Path leverages technology to create a different type of meaningful connection — that between local high school kids seeking a career they’ll love and regional businesses seeking new talent.

“This helps students understand, ‘Here’s this company that you’re a great fit for, here is information on their careers and here’s how you can connect with them,’” Mineer said.

Many of these companies are so eager to find the right employee fit that they offer internships and co-ops while the student is still in school, and tuition reimbursement and a job upon graduation, Mineer added. And in cases where the student wants to enter a field with worker shortages, the Bank of North Dakota will sometimes be able to help out employers by matching tuition costs.

‘Swipe right’ for work that works for you Mineer’s own career path has spanned everything from finance and marketing to IT project management, but said he sees himself primarily as “the consummate problem-solver.”

While working as a consultant, Mineer witnessed companies struggling to fill certain positions that required a specific combination of skills. They might unsuccessfully hire three or four people for one job in a two-year period.

“And I remember thinking … what if that organization could find a student who hasn’t really decided yet what they want to do when they graduate but has the raw talent this company is looking for? What if there was a way to let this student know that a job like this exists?” Mineer said.

Mineer began working on Golden Path “as a concept” in 2017 and met with companies and schools to determine how to best serve all involved.

Two years later, he officially launched Golden Path Solutions, which has grown to a team of 10 full-time, part-time or contract workers and is based out of the NDSU Research and Technology Park.

One of his first orders of business was working with Microsoft engineers to build the Compass app, based on Microsoft Azure.

The app is designed to serve three different client groups: students, employers and school career professionals.

It was first tested through schools in Fargo, Williston and Devils Lake, where school officials had been “early adopters,” Mineer said.

“We had some really great champions.”

State officials, looking to ease worker shortages in areas like skilled trades,invited Mineer to present his ideas to the state’s Workforce Development Council in 2017, when Compass was just an idea, and again in 2020. This led to a partnership with Golden Path and North Dakota’s Career and Technical Education Department in February of 2022.

The annual cost of Compass to the state is $220,000, which is shared by North Dakota Career and Technical Education and the state Department of Public Instruction, said Wayde Sick, director and executive officer of NDCTE. This provides access to Compass to every high school student in North Dakota, which is around 33,000 students.

“The Compass platform is a valuable resource that will help connect our students to opportunities with North Dakota employers. North Dakota has many career opportunities for our students to take advantage of and Compass is a resource that will help make those connections,” Sick said.

Although some may assume Golden Path’s work with NDCTE means they’ll only offer experiences in trade jobs and manufacturing, Mineer said they’re also working to offer experiences “from engineers to healthcare to welders to teachers.”

“Something for every student is the goal,” he said.

North Dakota students can find Compass embedded in their ruready. nd.gov website, an existing career and educational planning program provided by the NDCTE.

Compass also recently unveiled a mobile app for registered users.

The app is available as a “stand-alone solution” in Minnesota, where it is being used by some school districts, Mineer said.

How does it work? Compass works similar to how a dating app might work — albeit a nonromantic one. Students fill out their favorite subjects, skills, hobbies, activities and career interests. Their responses are tied to an algorithm, which matches them to specific types of jobs.

At the same time, Golden Path works with employers to identify the talents, skills and education needed to succeed in specific roles. They interview outstanding employees from those companies to learn what interested them while growing up, how they prepared for the job and what skills are needed in their day-to-day work.

These “career profiles” are added to Compass so students can capture a clearer picture of those jobs.

Students can then opt to make themselves searchable to workplaces which are looking for employees like them. The algorithm makes the match between compatible students and employers.

If all goes well, students — with parental oversight — may sign a contract which delineates the steps they’ll need to take (education, internships, etc.) in order to receive tuition help and a guaranteed job at graduation.

Mineer said he realizes algorithms aren’t flawless.

They may rule out a potentially promising student simply because they forgot to mention specific classes or their profile doesn’t align with the traditional formula for a certain kind of job candidate.

“We have to be careful, too, with that,” Mineer said. “We know that not everything is quantifiable.”

If the data doesn’t match students with a good fit because some data is lacking, Miner said the student is still encouraged to explore those opportunities.

The company is eyeing expansion into Minnesota, Montana, Iowa and South Dakota. The technology could even be used in small rural communities to connect students to companies and retain talented young workers after they graduate.

“One thing we never want is for Compass to only be something that large schools or even large companies can afford, so scalabiity is super important,” he said.

Learn more about Golden Path Solutions at “FollowGoldenPath”on Facebook or at www.goldenpath.net.

Tammy Swift is a business reporter at The Forum. She can be reached at tswift@ forumcomm.com.