A ten week pre-apprenticeship industry orientation program was held this summer at the Cement Masons Local 633 training center in New Brighton. The training program was a collaboration between four different reservations – Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Leech Lake Reservation and White Earth Reservation – coupled with MnDOT, the sponsor. Twenty-two trainees applied, 13 graduated. 

While there is an attrition rate, it belies the fact that the program has a 80-90% job placement and retention rate according to Brian Farmer, Apprenticeship Coordinator of Local 633. At the end of the program contractors who are highway heavy-geared are there to employ the graduates. And those students usually come back as apprentices. 

The reason the students who graduate the program become immediately employable is a result of the thoroughness of the program. During one week block training courses, the students learned the “day in the life” of a cement mason, which includes such skills as tool identification and math with pouring cement once or maybe even twice a week. The students also learned OSHA guidelines and personal safety practices. “Earning the safety credentials makes them more em

ployable,” said Farmer.

The program also helps the cement mason’s union build their membership, which currently consists of 13 Native Americans, three of whom are female. The local’s Native American leadership took part in running the camp. Moke Eaglefeathers, a member of the North Cheyenne tribe in Montana, was in charge of recruiting and vetting. Marissa Goodsky, from the Bois Fort Band of Chippewa, served as one of the instructors.

“Three years later I look at a graduating class and say, ‘Hey, they were in the program.’ Whole lives have changed. It’s pretty neat,” says Farmer.

Plans are in the works for another program next year with the goal being 25 students who come back as apprentices.