Ken Peterson: Apprenticeship training meets workforce needs of today and tomorrow

Minnesota DLI Commissioner Ken Peterson

Minnesota DLI Commissioner Ken Peterson

Minnesota’s workforce is experiencing tremendous transition. Thousands of our experienced baby boomers are retiring, while many employers are seeking a workforce capable of meeting increased levels of skill to operate new technologies with precision.

An emerging, yet familiar, pathway for some employers to successfully bridge that gap is registered apprenticeship programs.

Registered apprenticeship programs have been referred to as “the other four-year degree” in Minnesota since they began in 1939. Through apprenticeship, Minnesotans have built careers — without debt — by combining paid on-the-job training with focused classroom education. Both at the workplace and in class, training is customized to meet employers’ needs.

As apprentices learn more they earn more and at the end of their apprenticeship they receive a state-issued, industry-recognized credential. Plus, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, a fully proficient worker who completes an apprenticeship earns about $50,000 each year.

Today, there are more than 11,000 registered apprentices in Minnesota. Three-fourths of them are in the construction trades, such as carpenters, laborers and electricians. These programs, financed by employers and unions, have a long history of providing high-caliber job preparation. They are also increasingly diverse, with women and racial minorities now accounting for more than 25 percent of construction apprentices.

Using the same “earn while you learn” model, the state of Minnesota hopes to expand registered apprenticeship opportunities in other industries during the next five years.

A new Minnesota Apprenticeship Initiative will be one way to expand those opportunities. More than 800 individuals, working for 100 employers around the state, will participate in newly registered apprenticeship programs in 29 high-growth occupations in advanced manufacturing, agriculture, health care, information technology and transportation. Everyone who completes a program will receive a credential that demonstrates they possess the skills needed for success in their field. The initiative is federally funded, but will be administered by state agencies.

Another program, the Minnesota PIPELINE Project, provides grants to employers for dual-training in an occupation for which their industry has designed competency standards. The work must be done in collaboration with a training provider and be in one of four industries: advanced manufacturing, agriculture, health care or information technology.

Large and small manufacturers, health care facilities, auto dealers and others have found that registered apprenticeships offer employer-driven solutions to help them recruit, train and retain highly skilled employees. They are good for employers, workers and Minnesota’s future.

For more information about registered apprenticeship programs, call the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry at 1-800-342-5354 or visit

Ken Peterson, commissioner of Minnesota’s Department of Labor and Industry, wrote this column for Apprenticeship Week, observed Nov. 2-8 as proclaimed by Gov. Mark Dayton and the U.S. Department of Labor.

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