Led by Joint Labor-Management Construction Programs, Apprenticeship has Become One of the Gopher State’s Largest and Most Effective Workforce Development Institutions

Minneapolis:  The number of Minnesotans enrolled in registered apprenticeship programs has grown by 27% since 2014, making it the state’s third largest private post-secondary educational institution according to a new study by the Midwest Economic Policy Institute (MEPI) and Dr. Robert Bruno of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Fully 88% of the state’s active apprentices are enrolled in construction programs that are jointly administered by trade unions and their signatory employers.

Read the Study, “The Impact of Construction Apprenticeship Programs in Minnesota: A Return-on-Investment Analysis.”

“Minnesota’s registered apprenticeship programs provide participants with job skills that simply cannot be learned in college,” said MEPI Policy Director Frank Manzo.  “They offer tuition-free career training that boosts participant earnings by an average of $4,700 per year—nearly double the average for associate’s degree and more than many bachelor’s degrees.”

Using industry-standard IMPLAN economic modeling, researchers estimated the lifetime value of an apprenticeship program for each participant to be more than $167,000.  Annual spending by the ten largest construction programs alone delivers a long-term boost of $615 million to the state’s economy.

“The data shows that every dollar spent on apprenticeship programs increases Minnesota’s GDP by $21,” study co-author and University of Illinois Professor Robert Bruno.  “That makes apprenticeships one of the most effective investments we can make—not just in workers, but in the economy.”

While the $30 million annual investment from the construction industry produces the overwhelming majority of the state’s enrolled apprentices, construction is also the state’s third fastest growing industry and is expected to grow another 9% over the next decade.  Because many construction employers are reporting labor shortages, the report highlights important distinctions between joint labor-management programs, and “employer-only” programs (such as those offered by the Associated Builders and Contractors of Minnesota and North Dakota, or ABC).

Joint programs, which train 93% of Minnesota’s skilled trade apprentices, are funded by a cents per hour contribution for each hour worked that is negotiated by trade unions and employers.  Prevailing wage jobs typically require these training contributions as well.  Employer-only programs are principally funded by voluntary contributions from employers.

“Our analysis shows that the ten largest joint programs not only invest 100 times more than the employer-only model, they offer smaller class sizes and train more women, people of color, and veterans for careers in the skilled construction trades,” said Bruno.  “The voluntary, employer-only model simply hasn’t proven to be as effective for producing the skilled workforce pipeline that Minnesota contractors need.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, just 11% of all apprenticeable occupations are construction-related, yet the trades comprise more than 96% of Minnesota’s registered apprenticeships today.

To address the need to diversify and further strengthen Minnesota’s existing apprenticeship offerings, researchers called for boosting funding to Minnesota’s Apprenticeship Initiative with a focus on fields like healthcare, IT, agriculture, and manufacturing.  They also called for expanding access to child care programs to increase female participation, expanding pre-apprenticeship course offerings in public high schools and disadvantaged communities, and strengthening policies that institutionalize apprenticeship investments, such as the state’s prevailing wage law.

“Both in fast-growing occupations such as nurse assistants and advanced manufacturing to traditional occupations like machinists and construction workers, there is a clear need for more apprenticeship investments,” added MEPI Midwest Researcher and study co-author Jill Manzo.  “Government policy can play an important role in promoting these workforce development opportunities.”

The Midwest Economic Policy Institute (MEPI) is a nonprofit organization which uses advanced statistics and reliable surveying techniques to conduct timely and dynamic analyses of policy issues affecting the economies of the Midwest.

The Project for Middle Class Renewal at the University of Illinois investigates the working conditions of workers in today’s economy and elevate public discourse on issues affecting workers with research, analysis and education in order to develop and propose public policies that will reduce poverty, provide forms of representation to all workers, prevent gender, race, and LGBTQ+ discrimination, create more stable forms of employment, and promote middle-class jobs.