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NCWE Board Member Blog - Heidi Braun-Kahn
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Apprenticeship Expanding Among Minnesota Manufacturers - It’s All About Partnerships

  Heidi Braun-Kahn
  Director of Workforce Development
  Pine Technical and Community College



About 85 percent of registered apprentices in Minnesota are employed in the construction trades, but federal grant funds are helping more of the state’s manufacturers harness the power of apprenticeship to boost their employees’ skills – and remain competitive in a global economy.

The IMT (Industrial Manufacturing Technician) Registered Apprenticeship focuses on increasing the pipeline of highly qualified and diverse individuals prepared to enter middle- and high-skilled occupations within the growing manufacturing sector. It is a 3,000-hour apprenticeship that trains entry-level workers for manufacturing positions and promotes their career advancement and standing in higher-skilled apprenticeships.

It's All About Partnerships

  • Individual employers hire the apprentices, provide the on-the-job training, and pay for related instruction;
  • Community colleges, such as Minnesota State’s Pine Technical and Community College provides the related instruction to apprentices; and
  • A one-stop center or other workforce intermediary, such as MRTP (Minnesota Regional Training Partnership) recruits apprentices and provides basic skills training or related activities.

Hood Packaging is among a growing number of firms taking advantage of a free registered apprenticeship program for industrial workers; it is sponsored by the AFL-CIO’s Working for America Institute, which is part of a national apprenticeship program. A privately owned-company with 20 production facilities in the U.S. and Canada, Hood employs about 86 people at a facility in Arden Hills, where members of Local 264 print and laminate poly-film packaging for salted snacks and pet food.

When the Steelworkers came to Operations Manager Michael Ramirez with a pitch for the apprenticeship program, Ramirez and Human Resources Officer Beth diGrazia jumped at the opportunity. “For a lot of our workers, this isn’t just a job they’re going to leave; these are careers,” diGrazia said. “We want to keep them here; so if we have folks who want to learn more, we want to give them that opportunity.”

Four Hood employees – three Steelworkers and a manager – participated in the 18-month program. Every Thursday evening, they assembled in a conference room with two large screens and connected via Acano, telepresence technology with an instructor, as well as apprentices from other Minnesota manufacturing firms. The training is delivered right at each of the company’s doorstep.

IMT apprentices set up, test, calibrate, operate, and control manufacturing machinery and equipment using a variety of electrical, electronic, mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, and computer technologies. Manufacturers seek entry-level workers with skills in inspection, repair, mathematics, quality assurance and control, preventive maintenance, blueprint and schematic reading, inventory management, equipment testing, and good manufacturing processes. Employees are able to apply what they learn from their conference room right onto the shop floor.

Coursework ranges from safety to quality control and beyond, and it’s typical for apprentices to receive up to six hours of homework each week. They take quizzes and tests and receive a grade at the end of each course. Because these are standard college credit courses, apprentices can earn credit-based stackable certificates of completion in manufacturing. Once these certificates are completed, the apprentice can continue through academic pathways to receive a diploma, an Associates of Applied Science, a bachelors and so on.

These apprentices, who were paid for the time they spent in class, completed the program – and received their journeyperson cards – in June 2017. “These guys are showing the initiative,” diGrazia said. “They’re stepping up. And we hope they’ll never leave the company, but it is something that’s transferable; And it definitely looks good on their resume.”

For Ramirez, the apprenticeship program is providing Hood with future leaders ready to help train their co-workers, troubleshoot problems on the shop floor and keep an eye out for safety issues. He’s already seeing results: Hood sent 15 employees through the apprenticeship’s safety course last January, and the Arden Hills facility hasn’t had a safety incident since then. “It’s all about job security, quality and being competitive, and we can keep these manufacturing jobs. We think by working with the employers and with our partners, such as Minnesota State to keep them as trained as possible, these kinds of programs are going to keep us competitive.”

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