Through a partnership with Destinations Career Academy at Minnesota Virtual Academy (MNVA), the Local 49 Operating Engineers union has successfully integrated their curriculum into high schools in Minnesota. This means students can take elective classes, fast-tracking their way into registered apprenticeship within the union.
The program started in the fall semester of 2020. The organizers were told not to hold your breath. Maybe you’ll have a couple dozen students sign up. But surprisingly fifty-seven students signed up. A year later, for the fall of 2021, 148 kids from 73 school districts from 47 counties in Minnesota registered for the program. This spring the numbers increased again, 177 students from 76 school districts.
For the students, it’s a 3-for-1 win-win-win situation. The courses offered count as elective courses on a student’s high school transcript; articulated college credits with North Hennepin Community College; and credit hours towards the Registered Apprenticeship Program with Local 49 once they are signed on with a signatory contractor. Thanks in part to this program, some students that graduated last year are already three quarters of their way through their first year of registered apprenticeship.
One challenge the program needed to address is the budget impact for local school districts. K12 funding follows the students in Minnesota and while these courses are less of an impact than Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) for schools, IUOE Local 49 felt strongly about being solid community partners and with the assistance of industry partners and the MN Legislature, they developed a pool of money to backfill any budgetary impacts to local school districts. Schools are fully reimbursed for the cost of the courses for students that take and pass the courses.
“We’ve seen kids who have not been interested in school find a career path,” explained Jenny Winkelaar, Local 49’s Director of Workforce and Community Development. “I love being able to do this for kids. We are giving them good information at an early stage in their lives, setting them up to make good career and life decisions.”