Apprenticeships are becoming an increasingly popular way for Minnesotans to kickstart their careers.
A study by the Midwest Economic Policy Institute (MEPI) and Dr. Robert Bruno of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that participation in apprenticeships in Minnesota grew by 27 percent between 2014 and 2017, with 11,500 individuals enrolled in a program in 2017.
Apprenticeships are largely utilized as an alternative to college. MEPI policy director Frank Manzo says they have grown in popularity alongside the rising costs of college.
“An apprenticeship program offers the ability to earn while you learn,” Manzo says. “You go through roughly the same amount of classroom and on-the-job hours as you would through a bachelor’s degree program… but you’re getting paid to do it instead of accumulating debt.”
Citing data from policy research organization Mathematica, Manzo says apprenticeships provide an average annual earnings boost of $4,700—greater than most boosts provided by a bachelor’s or associate’s degree.
In addition to helping the individual, the MEPI study finds that apprenticeships serve as a significant boost to Minnesota’s economy.
“The data shows that every dollar spent on apprenticeship programs increases Minnesota’s GDP by $21,” says study researcher Robert Bruno, in a press release. “That makes apprenticeships one of the most effective investments we can make—not just in workers, but in the economy.”
The construction industry is at the heart of Minnesota’s apprenticeship participation. Even though construction accounts for just 11 percent of national occupations suited to apprenticeships, about 96 percent of the total number of individuals actively enrolled in Minnesota apprenticeships between 2015 and 2017 were working in skilled construction trades. This amounts to an annual industry investment of $30 million.
Manzo says this disproportion comes from the fact that construction is the only industry in the state to fully embrace apprenticeships thus far. He adds that the industry has been motivated by the impacts of the widespread labor shortage.
“They’re having difficulty finding qualified craft workers, so the solution is either pay people more and attract more workers into the industry or invest in training more workers and build up their skill sets,” Manzo says.
With the training approach, Manzo says many construction companies readily got on board with apprenticeships, working together to establish programs where workers could bounce between companies as jobs were available since the industry is naturally volatile and different companies win different bids at different times.
Manzo says he’d like to see state initiatives broaden the breadth of apprenticeship opportunities, particularly into fields like healthcare, IT, agriculture, and manufacturing.
“[Construction apprenticeships] have produced skilled construction workers that build our infrastructure, ensure schools are built safely,” Manzo says. “These programs could be replicated in other industries.”