Unions’ pre-apprenticeship program puts more Minnesotans on path to construction careers

The Building Strong Communities program holds a graduation ceremony. (photo by Vince Muzik)

Thirty-five Minnesotans are a big step closer to family-sustaining careers in the unionized construction industry after graduating from the Building Strong Communities program last week.

Elected officials, union leaders, employers and family members gathered for a ceremony May 5 at North Hennepin Community College to recognize graduates of the pre-apprenticeship program for women, veterans and people from racial and ethnic minority groups.

“You have the opportunity to be able to provide for your families, to make a meaningful contribution to society, to our cities, to our state, and you have much to be proud of,” Labor Commissioner Roslyn Robertson told graduates. “It is my honor to be able to witness this day.”

Funded and administered by the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council, Building Strong Communities is part of unions’ ongoing effort to increase community awareness of career opportunities in their industry.

“None of this is possible without the strong support of the Building and Construction Trades,” said Aaron Koski, workforce manager at the Met Council. “So thank you, unions.”

The 12-week course, offered each spring, provides an overview of the different crafts that make up the construction industry, using a Multi Core Craft Curriculum developed by unions, hands-on training at union apprenticeship centers and tours of union construction sites.

Graduates Isabelle Schultz and Dwayne Douglas take the stage during the ceremony.

Participants also take eight weeks of virtual classes in construction career readiness at North Hennepin, followed by four weeks of training to build up emotional intelligence, a skillset industry experts have identified as key to overcoming challenges new workers often encounter on the jobsite.

“You really learned how to control your emotions and not give people your remote,” 2022 graduate Isabelle Schultz said. “And if you are in control of your remote, then no one can control your emotions.”

Graduates completed the course just in time for the start of summer construction season, and Schultz, who will begin an apprenticeship with Operating Engineers Local 49 and Lunda Construction, was among several who had already signed on to begin working for local union contractors.

“This opportunity has opened my eyes to a whole new experience,” said Dwayne Douglas, set to begin an apprenticeship with Laborers Local 563 and Lunda after graduation. “To be a part of a training like this means everything in the world. This is something that is going to be beneficial for me and beneficial for my family for the rest of my life.”

Building Strong Communities Program Manager Thomas Scott said the work of “helping to make our construction industry in Minnesota more reflective of all our communities throughout the state” does not end with graduation. Each graduate has selected an advocate to provide mentorship and support over the next year.

“The goal is to stay in the industry and for the individual to experience everything that motivated him or her to choose the construction industry in the first place,” Scott said. “Our community advocates will continue to work with graduates … so that they have a strong support when things get rough.”

Joe Fowler, president of the state Building Trades council, welcomed graduates into the union family.

“As you look to begin your new careers, know that you’re entering a family of brothers and sisters who stand up for each other,” Fowler said. “And just remember that solidarity is key to making sure that you’re successful, and it’s key to making sure that our unions continue to thrive and are successful as well.”

Learn more about Building Strong Communities at buildingstrong.org.

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