The number of Minnesotans enrolled in registered apprenticeship programs has grown by 27% since 2014, making it the state’s third largest private post-secondary educational institution according to a new study by the Midwest Economic Policy Institute (MEPI) and Dr. Robert Bruno of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

The study also finds that 88% of the state’s active apprentices are enrolled in construction programs that are jointly administered by building trade unions and their signatory employers.

“Minnesota’s registered apprenticeship programs provide participants with job skills that simply cannot be learned in college,” said MEPI Policy Director Frank Manzo.  “They offer tuition-free career training that boosts participant earnings by an average of $4,700 per year—nearly double the average for associate’s degree and more than many bachelor’s degrees.”

These findings come amid the Trump Administration’s attempts to fundamentally shift apprenticeship programs. In late June the Trump administration’s U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) proposed new rules for apprenticeship programs. The Trump DOL wants to establish new certification requirements for Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAPs).

The new “industry-recognized” apprenticeship programs would be designed and operated by private business groups.  These programs would be a system outside the Labor Department’s registered apprenticeship program.

According to Politico

The idea was criticized from the start by Democrats, who said it lacked a proper mechanism for quality control. Under the proposed system, they said, the government would never be able to verify the effectiveness of the programs it was funding. Some Republicans, meanwhile, privately complained that the model didn’t offer sufficient incentive for businesses to participate.

Recently a bipartisan group of Minnesota Legislators sent a letter to DOL outlining their concerns with the proposed changes.

Unfortunately, if expanded to include the construction industry, the proposed rules would undermine the integrity and drive down the training and labor standards in construction Registered Apprenticeship programs, setting off a race to the bottom in Minnesota’s construction industry. Minnesota is not willing to jeopardize the quality of its construction and the safety and security of its construction workforce.

The public is also at risk. Having the safest roads, bridges, schools and utilities requires the best trained workers with the highest level of skill. Anything less, especially an untested training program with lowered standards, will put public safety at risk.

Joint programs, which train 93% of Minnesota’s skilled trade apprentices, are funded by a cents per hour contribution for each hour worked that is negotiated by trade unions and employers.  Prevailing wage jobs typically require these training contributions as well.  Employer-only programs are principally funded by voluntary contributions from employers.

“Our analysis shows that the ten largest joint programs not only invest 100 times more than the employer-only model, they offer smaller class sizes and train more women, people of color, and veterans for careers in the skilled construction trades,” said Bruno.  “The voluntary, employer-only model simply hasn’t proven to be as effective for producing the skilled workforce pipeline that Minnesota contractors need.”

Using industry-standard IMPLAN economic modeling, researchers estimated the lifetime value of an apprenticeship program for each participant to be more than $167,000.  Annual spending by the ten largest construction programs alone delivers a long-term boost of $615 million to the state’s economy.

“The data shows that every dollar spent on apprenticeship programs increases Minnesota’s GDP by $21,” study co-author and University of Illinois Professor Robert Bruno.  “That makes apprenticeships one of the most effective investments we can make—not just in workers, but in the economy.”   

While the $30 million annual investment from the construction industry produces the overwhelming majority of the state’s enrolled apprentices, construction is also the state’s third fastest growing industry and is expected to grow another 9% over the next decade.  Because many construction employers are reporting labor shortages, the report highlights important distinctions between joint labor-management programs, and “employer-only” programs (such as those offered by the Associated Builders and Contractors of Minnesota and North Dakota, or ABC).

To address the need to diversify and further strengthen Minnesota’s existing apprenticeship offerings, researchers called for boosting funding to Minnesota’s Apprenticeship Initiative with a focus on fields like healthcare, IT, agriculture, and manufacturing.  They also called for expanding access to child care programs to increase female participation, expanding pre-apprenticeship course offerings in public high schools and disadvantaged communities, and strengthening policies that institutionalize apprenticeship investments, such as the state’s prevailing wage law.

“Both in fast-growing occupations such as nurse assistants and advanced manufacturing to traditional occupations like machinists and construction workers, there is a clear need for more apprenticeship investments,” added MEPI Midwest Researcher and study co-author Jill Manzo.  “Government policy can play an important role in promoting these workforce development opportunities.”

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