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NDSCS offering registered apprenticeships to tackle state's workforce deficit

There are nearly 20,000 jobs in North Dakota that need filling and considerably fewer people to fill them, according to Job Service North Dakota. The North Dakota State College of Science's registered apprenticeship program is seeking the address the gap.

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The North Dakota State College of Science's Fargo campus is seen Monday, March 14, 2022, at 1305 19th Avenue North.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum
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FARGO — The North Dakota State College of Science is offering a program which it hopes will combat the state’s workforce shortage.

NDSCS’s registered apprenticeship program brings together employers, employees and educators to provide training opportunities for workers. The program is overseen by the United States Department of Labor , which recognizes thousands of various apprenticeships.

Pamela Morrau, a project specialist for ApprenticeshipND, said the program is an expansion of the technical instruction NDSCS has offered for apprenticeships for over 60 years. “More recently, within the past few years, we’ve really focused on becoming experts in registered apprenticeships,” she said.

NDSCS sponsors employers involved in the program, working directly with them to upskill current employees or train new ones. “We’re more actively involved with the registered apprenticeship,” Morrau said of the college’s role in the program.

In recent years, Morrau said, apprenticeships have “really gained traction” among employers and employees alike. Bringing NDSCS into the mix gives employers access to grant funds which defray the cost of the program .

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Brian Fuder, program manager for ApprenticeshipND, said the program will help get more people into North Dakota’s labor force while also staying employer-specific. “It’s a way to actually get people to work sooner and try to meet some of these workforce issues that we’re dealing with,” he said. “The apprenticeship program is really tailor-made to be employer-driven.”

‘A work and learn model’

The key edge the registered apprenticeship program provides for employees is that, upon completion, participants receive a certified registered apprenticeship credential from the Department of Labor. This credential can be transported and used to seek work opportunities across the country, Fuder explained.

On top of that, employees receiving training through the program earn a paycheck from the sponsoring employer in addition to on-the-job training and experience. The registered apprenticeships also include guaranteed pay raises as employees progress, meaning they’ll be compensated like an experienced employee upon completion. “We really like to think of this as a work and learn model, where they’re actually being paid by the employer to work for the employer and get the training that they need,” Fuder explained.

Training for the registered apprenticeship program is customized and takes place online, which Morrau said is not only convenient but also practical for a rural state like North Dakota. Adding to its versatility, experience from the program can be transferred to the academic side in the form of up to 36 technical credits. Those credits can be applied to a journey worker track for a technical studies degree from NDSCS.

In the past, apprenticeships were associated with construction and skilled trades, Fuder said. That’s no longer the case, as ApprenticeshipND offers over 100 programs in a wide range of fields, including healthcare, advanced manufacturing, transportation and more.

Specific occupations included certified nurses aides, certified medication aides and construction equipment mechanics. Several more are in development, including an auto technician, carpentry, project management and welding. That list only scratches the surface, Morrau said. “There is almost an endless opportunity,” she remarked.

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A certified nursing assistant trainee checks a patient's blood pressure as part of the North Dakota State College of Science's CNA program.
Contributed / North Dakota State College of Science

Fuder agreed, adding that the Department of Labor has recognized thousands of different career paths in the registered apprenticeship program. It’s not just for plumbers and electricians anymore, he noted. “There’s over 1,000 recognizable, apprenticeable occupations that the Department of Labor sees as viable occupations to pursue as an apprentice,” he commented. “These are viable and actually well put together programs that are going to benefit both employers and employees in the long run.”

Advantageous for employers

The benefits of a registered apprenticeship aren’t only for employees, Morrau clarified.

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Employers also benefit, most directly by improving their workforce. “Apprenticeships really help develop and grow their workforce to be highly skilled, especially as they’re facing the obstacles today in attracting and retaining those workers with the skills that they need,” she remarked.

As part of the program, trainees are matched with a mentor on the job. The pairing, Morrau said, helps workers feel connected to the company and also serves as a way for employers to show workers that they’re worth the investment.

The good will employers bank with employees has paid off thus far, Morrau said, with ApprenticeshipND posting an 89% retention rate.

Fuder said the registered apprenticeship program allows employers to invest in their incumbent employees as well. On top of work, full-time employees juggle personal obligations, which can make the prospect of returning to school nearly impossible.

With a registered apprenticeship, employees who otherwise can’t take the time off to go back to school can still get them the training they need. “An apprenticeship allows them to do that. It gives them another option as far as getting some training through their employer,” Fuder said.

Some of the largest employers to take part in the program have been Caterpillar in West Fargo and Sanford Health, which has trained EMT paramedics. Also among the participants are the North Dakota Long Term Care Association and the North Dakota State Electrical Board, Fuder said.

Still, Fuder pointed out that the program is open to employers both big and small statewide. NDSCS can help employers get their program off the ground, connect them with the Department of Labor and ensure it’s less of a “resource drain” for the employer.

Doing so is especially beneficial for the smaller employers Fuder hopes to attract. “We really are trying to focus in on some of the smaller employers,” he said.

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Answering why

Both Morrau and Fuder hoped ApprenticeshipND would play a role in tackling the workforce issues North Dakota faces.

Statewide, North Dakota has nearly 20,000 job openings , but not nearly enough people to fill the open positions. Morrau hoped the program would grow as much as it possibly could to add more employees into the labor force. “It’s really a lot of fun to work with all the different employers to create these personalized programs for each of them,” she said.

Fuder noted that NDSCS is open to feedback from employers to better address their needs. He also welcomed new subject matter experts to join in and assist with training for even more fields.

Given the vast disparity between job openings and job seekers, offering training through the registered apprenticeship program can provide a leg up for employers, Fuder suggested.

It’s also a chance for businesses to show prospective employees why they should work for them. “The solution to the problem is not throwing more money at people. You want to add some value to that,” Fuder said. “I can do a menial task for the same money, but my potential for moving up and onward is limited. If I go to work for a dedicated employer, my potential is much better.”

The workforce deficit illustrates the need to train existing employees, Fuder added. “There’s only so many employees. There’s only so many people that are available to work,” he said. “Not everybody can be the manager or the supervisor. Somebody’s got to actually do the work too.”

Readers can reach InForum reporter Thomas Evanella at tevanella@forumcomm.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasEvanella

Thomas Evanella is a reporter for The Forum. He's worked for The Forum for over two years, primarily reporting on business news. Reach him at tevanella@forumcomm.com or by calling 701-353-8363. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasEvanella.
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