In Minnesota, apprenticeship model expanding to other industries

(Michael Moore, Union Advocate) Apprenticeship has long been the backbone of the Building Trades unions. Their on-the-job training programs put workers on a path to family-sustaining careers while ensuring union contractors have access to the highly skilled labor pool they need to remain competitive.

It’s a win-win model.

Now, with a push from the federal government, unions and employers in other industries are looking to emulate it.

Minnesota is one of three states where the AFL-CIO’s Working for America Institute, armed with a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, is promoting a registered apprenticeship program for industrial manufacturing workers. It’s an 18-month, 3,000-hour training course that employers can access at no cost to boost their workers’ skills.

Several Minnesota manufacturers are warming up to the idea of partnering with a union on an apprenticeship course, program coordinator Jerome Balsimo said.

“Employers have said to us, ‘This is a recruiting tool,’” Balsimo said. “‘There are four or five other manufacturers right next to us, but I’m the manufacturer that has the apprenticeship program, wage increase and industry-recognized certifications when you finish. Come work for us.’”

Among those employers is Baldinger Bakery in St. Paul. After being approached by its workers’ union, BCTGM Local 22, Baldinger agreed to install the Industrial Manufacturing Technician apprenticeship program, which will launch later this year.

The company, which manufactures buns for McDonald’s and other restaurants, recently relocated to a “rebuilt, high-tech facility” on Phalen Boulevard, Local 22 President Ron Mohrland said. Management viewed the apprenticeship program as an opportunity to ensure workers’ skills keep pace.

Much of the training curriculum is standardized, with MnSCU faculty facilitating. But Baldinger is able to customize many aspects to meet the plant’s needs.

“There’s a basic education that these guys are getting, but the plant is helping write the program to what needs to be taught specifically at our facility,” Mohrland said.

About one-third of the 60-plus union members working in the facility are expected to participate, from new hires to more experienced factory workers. Apprentices will get paid for the time they spend in classroom or on-the-job training, and when they complete the program, they will add seven industry-recognized credentials and certifications to their resumes – not to mention the $1.50 per hour raise.

“They’re going to go from walking in the door as a helper to the very top scale, something called a bakery processor,” Mohrland said. “That’s somebody who can pretty much walk in there can do anything – from minor maintenance to running the machines all around the facility.”

Industrial unions like the BCTGM aren’t the only ones eying apprenticeship opportunities as an added value to union membership. Todd Dahlstrom, the Minnesota AFL-CIO’s organizing and growth director, said another federal grant is in the works to boost health care workers’ skills and wages via apprenticeship.

“The union does grievances, the union does arbitration, the union negotiates contracts – all fundamental things that are very, very important. But they’re not always tangible to a new employee,” Dahlstrom said.

“If workers understand that they get their training and certificate for that training through a program their union has helped develop and offer, you get workers on the front end and give them a stronger union identity.”

– Interested in the Industrial Manufacturing Technician apprenticeship? Contact program coordinator Jerome Balsimo at 651-335-2896 or Jbalsimo@mnaflcio.org.

Michael Moore edits The Union Advocate, the official publication of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation. Learn more at www.stpaulunions.org

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