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Apprenticeship Programs are Getting the Attention They Deserve

November brought in a greater emphasis on national apprenticeship programs than the Country has seen in recent years. National Apprenticeship Week was celebrated from November 13-19th. Of course, the pioneers in massive apprenticeship success have long been that National Building Trades Unions and their affiliates. But with the soaring demand for labor, coupled with a greater awareness in college debt struggles, the apprenticeship programs are now in vogue for everyone who wants to emulate the building trades and their partner construction contractors.


The United States Department of Labor boasted over 1,000 events across the 50 states that showcased apprentice leaders from every corner of the country. Also, the Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Education Secretary Betsy DeVoss joined Secretary Alexander Acosta in a recent meeting to strategize on how to expand on success that skilled construction labor has enjoyed for decades through their joint apprenticeship training centers (JATC).


A few of the noteworthy apprenticeship highlights from across the nation include:

  • The Sheet Metal Workers Local 100 in Maryland hosted Secretary Acosta on a visit he made to see first hand their great example of the “earn while you learn” doorway into the skilled trades;
  • At least 95 cities and states, and even foreign countries, signing National Apprenticeship Week proclamations;
  • Approximately 30 million digital impressions were gathered from the weeklong celebration of “the other four year degree” programs that allow committed students to join the workforce debt free.


Closer to home Minnesotans participated in our own Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) and economic development councils’ hosting of a bus tour that raised awareness on financially beneficial careers that are opened through apprenticeships. On November 16th they visited the Iron Workers, the Laborers and the Carpenters Unions’ JATC facilities. In Hermantown the Carpenters also hosted a luncheon at its training center that allowed contractors to share their opportunities and success at staffing its workforce with skilled, safe and productive unionized construction labor.


FCF capitalized on the Mid-November enthusiasm too. We introduced regulatory bodies to the skills and safety training that Minnesota’s JATCs provide. We organized a tour of the Pipe Fitters Local #539, the Sheet Metal Workers Local #10 and the Iron Workers Local #512 training centers across the metro region. In attendance were dedicated field agents from the U.S. Department of Labor, MN’s DLI, the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Minneapolis Contract Compliance staff. Nearly 30 individuals received personal presentations from three excellent JATC coordinators: Chad Birk, Carl Zitzer and Larry Gilbertson.

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Destined For Destruction: What Was Old Will Be New Again

In early 2016, the historic west end Hope Engine Company #3 firehouse, located at the intersection of Grand Avenue and Leech Street in St. Paul, was destined for the wrecking ball.

Built in 1871, it served as St. Paul’s first volunteer fire station and was in operation from 1872 to 1956. The 2-story Hope Engine Company #3 Firehouse is reported to be the oldest former municipal building to remain standing in St. Paul, though it was never designated as a historical building.

A local developer had plans to raze the building to make room for a hotel. However, neighborhood residents and historic-preservation groups joined forces to fight the destruction of the century old building. After a restraining order, a civil lawsuit to halt demolition, a 90-day stay, negotiations and a redesign, more than a year later there is an amended plan for a developer to incorporate the historic structure into the hotel’s design.

The deal includes a $500,000 loan from the city Housing and Redevelopment Authority to help offset the cost of incorporating the building into the hotel development. In May of this year, Dougherty Funding, LLC closed a $15.1 million Construction loan arranged for St. Paul Hotel Ventures, LLC.

General Contractor Weis Builders has started construction on the 0.94 acre lot (adjacent to the fire station) where a 5-story, 100 room Residence Inn by Marriott will be located at 200 Grand Avenue.

While re-development of the historic firehouse is in the early stages, the plan is to preserve the Hope Engine Company #3 structure as a standalone building and link it to the hotel via an outdoor patio. Plans for the interior include a 2,100 square foot wine bar on the first floor and office space on the second floor. FCF staff have a great view of this historic transformation because it is taking place on a daily basis right outside our window.


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Hunt Electric Makes A Difference For A Pre-Apprentice

Faith, persistence, ambition, and the generosity of, IBEW 292, Hunt Electric and many friends have changed the life of Calvin Mulumba. More than likely, the management at Hunt Electric is not aware of what a difference they have made in one person’s life and so I wanted to share this story. 

I first met Calvin Mulumba about two years ago at a men’s Bible study. A victim of torture from Uganda, fleeing for his life, Calvin sought asylum in the United States leaving his friends and family behind. He had been in the country less than a year and was living with his cousin. During our first meetings all Calvin talked about was becoming an electrician. It doesn’t take long to realize when someone has a single mindedness, bordering on obsession, about a life goal. Little did we all know the obstacles that he would face.

Calvin lived close to the Bruentrup Heritage Farm in Maplewood, which is supported by the Maplewood Historical Society. To keep busy he started volunteering there. Painting, cleaning bathrooms, he did whatever was asked of him always with a smile. He hiked to the farm to work. He loved to work whether he got paid or not. I do believe, although now working full-time for Hunt Electric, he does have the most volunteer hours at the farm for 2017.

Shortly after we met Calvin faced several roadblocks. First came the threat of homelessness. Calvin’s cousin had a family arriving and would no longer have space for Calvin to stay. While working at the Bruentrup Farm Calvin got to know Bill and Raydelle Bruentrup and they opened their home to him. He has become part of their family. Living in the eastern suburbs presented the next roadblock, that of transportation. For months the Bruentrups and friends provided transportation. Before finding a job it was necessary to apply for and get necessary identification cards and to deal with with HomeLand Security. Eventually Calvin got a job at FedEx on the second shift loading and unloading boxes. The job was challenging. Calvin got his driver’s license and bought a used car with his savings. By this time I felt that wherever Calvin went to work he had a good chance to be successful.

During Calvin’s working at FedEx I mentioned that I worked for the Fair Contracting Foundation of Minnesota (FCF), an organization supported by sixteen labor unions and over a thousand union contractors. I told him I would investigate what it took to get into an apprenticeship program and encouraged him to start visiting union websites. I had been working several years with FCF and had gotten to know the people at IBEW Local 110 in St. Paul and IBEW 292 in Minneapolis. We learned that if there was a demand for new apprentices and if he could find a contractor to give him a job, Calvin could get into a pre-apprenticeship program that could lead to an apprenticeship as an electrician. The next hurdle was trying to find an employer.

Almost two years ago now, I approached my neighbor Chris Anderson, a supervisor for Hunt Electric, about possibly hiring Calvin. Between Chris and his coworker, Kevin Almendinger, Calvin starting the process of filling out applications, taking drug tests, and passing security screenings. Kevin and Chris went out of their way to get this process completed and were very patient. Similarly, Hunt coordinated with the IBEW 292 JATC and Calvin got the appropriate applications completed for the pre-apprenticeship program. Little did we expect Homeland Security to become the next major stumbling block.

It turned out Calvin had two middle names and on one of his IDs from Homeland Security they only included one of his middle names. This discrepancy was a problem and he could not get through the security clearances to work for Hunt until this got cleared up. At this same time, this ID mix up caused another problem and his work permit was not renewed. Therefore, FedEx had to lay him off because of it. Bill Bruentrup spent hours on the phone and writing letters to get the ID corrected. I enlisted the help of Senator Amy Klobuchar’s office. It took the better part of a year to get the ID corrected! As soon as it got corrected, Calvin went back to work at FedEx while he resumed his pursuit of his pre-apprenticeship through IBEW 292 and Hunt.

Given a year had passed, he had to review and update all of his applications and wait for Hunt to have a job opening for a pre-apprentice. He never lost sight of his goal or lost any of his enthusiasm to become an electrician. Calvin went to work for Hunt Electric in the summer of 2017 at the Minneapolis International Airport. He has been working 6 days a week and has accumulated almost 1,000 hours since he started. There are many thousands of hours ahead for Calvin to complete his apprenticeship, but he is doing well, his immediate supervisors are happy with his work, and he so appreciates everything that has been done for him.

In addition to all of his friends and family, special thanks to the organizations that gave Calvin the opportunity to get into the 292 pre-apprenticeship program:

  • Hunt Electric Corporation and Chris Anderson
  • IBEW 292 and their staff at the JATC


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