Participation in Building Strong Communities (BSC), the 12-week apprenticeship preparatory program, accelerated in double digits yet again. At their recent graduation ceremony at North Hennepin Community College, 105 apprentice-ready men and women received their certificate of completion, up a whopping 41% from last year.

 It wasn’t just the graduation rate that left organizers surprised. It was the number of people  who filled the hall to watch the ceremony as well. Two hundred sixty-two (262) chairs were put out, but by the start of the event seating became SRO (standing room only) as family and friends populated the crowd.

“We advertise online and through social media, but I think our accelerating numbers are really a function of word-of-mouth,” explained Rick Martagon, Building Strong Communities Executive Director. “Initially we’ll have a thousand people show interest each year before it whittles down to the number we have at graduation. Our system is easy to follow as far as applying and as an incentive we offer really good wages.”

To get into an apprenticeship training program like BSC, people apply on the Minnesota Workforce web site according to Martagon. The next step is to go to an information session to really gauge one’s commitment level and from there register for classes Martagon said.

The first eight weeks of classes are virtual, with craft curriculum from North Hennepin Community College faculty and emotional intelligence courses. The final four weeks involve hands-on training at an apprenticeship training center. One day at a training center is devoted to experiencing the rigors of the trade. Called a “physical awareness day,” students experience what the physical demands of a day on the job might be. This is just part of getting the right people who are ready to hire for the end user, the contractors.

Eighty-four percent of this year’s cohort stayed the course, going and growing all the way through to completion. A factor in the high retention rate is that participants aren’t in it alone. Each one has an “advocate,” a mentor who can walk them through the process and answer any questions they might have.

If someone decides the trades aren’t for them, that’s OK too. The goal is to provide vetted candidates, people ready to employ, for contractors and union building trades. While the program has only been around under the Building Strong Communities name for seven years, the returns are encouraging.