Stacey Karels

Stacey Karels

MANKATO — Apprenticeships — particularly in the construction trades — have been around for many decades. Now the state, businesses and trade unions are trying to beef up training and expand apprenticeships to sectors that haven't traditionally used them.

John Aiken, director of Apprenticeship Minnesota at the Department of Labor and Industry, said the agency has worked with apprentice programs in building and construction trades since the late 1930s.

"We're trying to expand it to more industries. We're looking at advanced manufacturing, agribusiness, IT, health care, transportation. All these are looking for that next generation of talent and how they're going to replace all the talent from retiring baby boomers," Aiken said.

With the help of a federal grant, the state is enrolling more businesses as approved apprenticeship sites and paying for training.

"The grant award is based on the number of people you will register as apprentices. It's $5,000 per apprentice for their training costs. They can't use the grant to pay for wages for the employee," Aiken said.

Stacey Karels, Mankato business agent and president of the Mankato Area Building and Construction Trades Council, said the local trade groups have long had apprentice programs and now they are working with high schools in hopes up beefing up industrial arts classes, many of which were trimmed over the years. That, he said, would prepare students who want to go into the trades and reduce the amount of on-the-job training.

"We're working with the schools and the teachers who deal with shop classes and things."

The national building trades union has been working with high schools to implement the Multi-Craft Core Curriculum, or MC3, providing students a pathway for careers in the trades.

Part of the effort is to help train the industrial arts teachers in area high schools. "The state requires teachers to have certain number of years working in a trade to teach it," Karels said. But many teachers today didn't start out in trades. The Trades Council brings in a nationally recognized trainer for a two-day "train the trainer" workshop for teachers. The recognized training helps fulfill the teachers' licensing needs.

Karels said all the funding for the program comes from private membership fees, not public dollars. "It doesn't cost the schools anything because we provide grants."

The local trades also have robust apprenticeship programs, with employees learning on the job and getting classroom training, either locally or in the Twin Cities. Karels said most of the apprenticeships are three- to four-year programs.

"We call it earn while you learn." As apprentices hit different numbers of training hours, their pay rises. Beyond job skills, the apprenticeships focus on safety training.

Aiken said they hope to bring the kind of apprenticeship programs the trades have long had to other industries desperate for workers.

"We register apprentice programs here. We work with employers and listen to them about their recruiting, retraining and retaining needs. We've seen great success in this model."

He said businesses using apprentice programs also have a higher retention rate. "When they invest in them in that way, these folks tend to want to stay."

Aiken said that once a business or public entity is registered with the state's apprentice program, they can get the funding for training apprentices. He said the business can choose who they want to provide the training. "The employer is in the driver's seat. They're deciding who they want to use as an instruction provider, whatever fits what they're trying to do."

More information is available at: www.apprenticeshipmn.com.

Follow Tim Krohn on Twitter @TimKrohn

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