With Minnesota facing a projected shortage of 400,000 workers by 2024, state officials, industry advocates and employers attending the state’s first Apprenticeship Summit touted the benefits of “earn while you learn” programs to develop the next generation of skilled employees.
The most compelling case for Apprenticeship Minnesota — the state Department of Labor and Industry’s registered apprenticeship program — may have come from participants themselves. A handful of active apprentices drew a standing ovation from the 450 people who crowded into the summit last week at the Earle Brown Heritage Center in Brooklyn Center.
“I do what I love to do at work and they pay me for it and they give me great benefits,” said Dionte Henley, a first-year apprentice with the Sheet Metal Workers Local 10 who works at Maplewood-based MG McGrath Architectural Surfaces.
Said Grace Bauman, a third-year apprentice with Iron Workers Local 512: “With the competitive wages I’m paid and the phenomenal benefits I receive, it’s made me a much more independent person.”
“It’s an education that’s nationally recognized and you can take it wherever you go,” said Tiffany Schlueter, a journey worker Class A machine operator at Fridley-based Ajax Metal Forming Solutions. “Before this [I spent] 15 years in retail, and I would never go back — not for a second.”
More than 11,400 apprentices were working in Minnesota in February, Apprenticeship Minnesota Director John Aiken said in a recent interview. Nearly 90 percent of apprentices work in construction, he said.
To expand apprenticeship opportunities and help employers diversify their workforces, the Department of Labor & Industry is relying on $6.7 million in U.S. Department of Labor grants. The largest grant, $5 million over five years, supports the Minnesota Apprenticeship Initiative.
The program offers seed money to help employers offset the cost of developing registered apprenticeship programs. Its goal is to train 1,000 new apprentices in the high-demand industries of advanced manufacturing, agriculture, health care service, information technology and transportation.
Another new program, the Minnesota APEX Initiative, is creating pre-apprenticeship opportunities in construction for women, minorities and veterans, Aiken said in the interview. Women, minorities and veterans represent about 7 percent, 20 percent and 6.5 percent, respectively, of apprentices although their numbers have doubled since 2010.
Apprenticeship programs benefit employers and workers alike, Aiken told the summit audience. “For the employer, [it’s] a strategic advantage to recruit, train and retain top talent,” Aiken said. “For the worker, [it’s] an opportunity to earn while learning a valuable trade and a credential and a pathway to a promising career.”
Retirements among Minnesota’s aging population will contribute to a projected workforce shortage of 400,000 jobs in 2024, Allison Liuzzi, a research scientist at the St. Paul-based Wilder Foundation, said at the summit. Residents age 65 or older will account for at least 20 percent of the population in 59 of the state’s 87 counties in 2020 and 80 of 87 in 2030, she said.
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