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Looking to give high schoolers better access to vocational training, legislators propose credit-for-apprenticeships program

State Rep. Jim Nash
MinnPost photo by Erin Hinrichs
On Monday, state Rep. Jim Nash proposed HF 1944, which would create Vocational Postsecondary Enrollment Options for high schoolers age 16 or older.

As high schools, especially those in Greater Minnesota, struggle to offer vocational training for in-demand career fields like healthcare, manufacturing and construction, legislators are looking to make student access to what's known as career and technical education (CTE) a little easier.

On Monday, Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, proposed legislation that would allocate $1 million in tax credits for businesses as part of a plan to create a vocational apprenticeship pilot program at 10 high schools across the state. 

“We put a lot of focus on creating opportunities for students to go to a 4-year college and to pursue a great career that way,” Nash told reporters, adding that support for students interested in trade professions has largely fallen by the wayside. “We have been a country, for years, that has been very much built by hard work, people using their hands. And I think we’ve deemphasized that to the point where we have to do something like this to reinvigorate it.”

The bill, HF 1944, would create Vocational Postsecondary Enrollment Options (VPSEO) for high schoolers age 16 or older. Much like traditional PSEO courses — which offer secondary students an opportunity to study at a participating postsecondary institution for dual credit — VPSEO courses would take students out of the classroom and allow them to study on site, whether it be alongside an electrician, a welder, a builder, a CNC machine operator or some other trades expert. Each apprenticeship would last at least eight weeks, with the participating student averaging 10 hours on site per week.

“We want them to actually be in the business and be alongside that person that’s going to be apprenticing them and be hands on — on the gear, or on the machine that they’re learning on — because that’s where the real value comes [from],” Nash said.

As proposed, students enrolled in an apprenticeship would be guaranteed high school credit. Looking at PSEO as a model, Nash says he’d like to work it out so that students get postsecondary credits as well.

Patrick Devine, superintendent of Waconia Public Schools, said he sees the bill as a way to generate more excitement around the trades in schools. “I know those students that want to go that path sometimes feel like they shouldn’t go there because we’ve been pushing the 4 -year college so hard with every student in the college prep journey that we’ve had,” he said. “It’s been a great journey, but we don’t want to leave kids out there that have different passions.”

Brad Lundell, executive director of Schools for Equity in Education, a consortium of districts across the state, echoed the need to support students who are interested in entering the workforce straight out of high school. And that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t end up going to college later on, perhaps with a clearer objective.

Superintendent of Waconia Public Schools Patrick Devine
MinnPost photo by Erin Hinrichs
Superintendent of Waconia Public Schools Patrick Devine sees the bill as a way to generate more excitement around the trades in schools.

“Often times what we see with students who go into vocational courses [is] sometimes, after a few years, they might head back to college because they understand the needs,” he said. “They can go further with what they’ve learned in an applied setting.”

Even without any college experience, those who enter the trades can “live the American dream,” says Melissa Redman, general manager of T. Scherber, a local demolition and excavating business. Offering an example, she says they have a 23-year-old employee whose annual salary this past year was $79,000. He doesn’t have a college degree — or the accompanying debt. “This is very exciting for small business owners to be able to connect with the next generation of workers,” she said.

The proposed legislation offers up to $2,000 in tax credits per apprentice to help offset the expenses incurred by participating businesses. If approved, interested high schools and businesses that agree to work in partnership can begin applying to the pilot program by Nov. 1, 2017. Applicants would be selected on a first-come-first-served basis, with program implementation beginning at the start of 2018. By Feb. 1, 2020, the Legislature would review the cost, reach and impact of the pilot program.

“I hope we will be able to have this signed into law this year so we can study the results, see how it’s working,” Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, said. “And if it’s working well, let’s roll it out across the state because we are not reaching all the students we need to with their plans for post-high school. This is another way to make sure we are individualizing opportunities and education for all of our students.”   

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Comments (6)

Good idea

…with caveats.

Apprenticeships have a long and (mostly) storied history, and strike me as a great way to introduce high school (and later) students to interesting and necessary (and often, well-paid) occupations that generally get little publicity.

I'd want to keep a careful and jaundiced eye on any programs created, however, as the purpose of education should not be, in my view, the training of employees, but the creation of future citizens. The apprenticeships ought to properly be supplements to a high school diploma, not the primary reason for getting one. It's also not difficult to think of situations where the idea of on-site apprenticeships could be easily and usefully expanded to include students beyond K-12 to include interested young people at community and junior colleges.

Just as an aside, it's "interesting" that a 23-year-old can get a job that pays $79,000 annually and doesn't require either a state-issued license or a pile of accumulated college debt. Yet that employee's teachers are routinely paid about half of that figure, must have a state-issued license, and often begin their careers with a sizable college debt. Something is wrong with that picture, and it's not that an employee without a college degree is able to make a living wage…

Salaries for teachers and skilled workers

Making it easier for high school kids who are not college bound to obtain vocational-technical training and internships along with their high school educations is long overdue, as Mr. Schoch properly emphasizes. However his comment responding to Ms. Redmand's statement regarding her 23-year-old employee who earned $79,000 last year needs elaboration.

The comparison of the 23-year-old's pay with teachers' salaries would benefit from additional context. I'm unsure whether he implies that the 23-year old was overpaid, or that teachers are underpaid–or perhaps both. In either case, it's useful to examine the teacher pay schedule for the Minneapolis Public School System (on the MPS website), and compare the number of contract days and continuing education requirements per calendar year for public school teachers with the typical number of work days in a calendar year for many skilled workers in the trades. And, of course, salaries comprise only part of total annual compensation, making comparisons even more challenging.

Pay rates

My apologies for the lack of clarity. I'm pleased that a young man without a college degree or a state license can earn a good wage. I'm more than a little displeased that his high school teachers – if they were working for Minneapolis public schools on the same pay scale I'd be using if I were still teaching – would never reach the same income level. My starting assumption is that teachers are vastly underpaid.

Indeed, the unmentioned variables, like paid sick leave (or the lack thereof) can make a substantial difference in overall compensation over the course of a year. That's why so many CEOs of big companies like to get stock options as part of their compensation packages—they don't really show up on the books until the options are exercised, so they're like money in the bank that's tax-free until/unless they're exercised.

I never taught in Minnesota, so I can't speak to the specifics of the Minneapolis teachers' contract as it plays out in reality, but the district I worked for in another state paid its certified staff once a month, and did not pay those certified employees through the summer for most of my tenure there, so I had to make what I got in June stretch until late September for most of my career, and I was never able to get local groceries, auto repair places, etc., to alter their billing practices to take the quirks of my lack of summer income into account. Typical work days are an area I'm inclined to discount, or treat as a wash between teaching and the private sector, and that's based on my experience in both. While I was never a corporate executive, I did hold private sector supervisory positions, and could leave the job at the office when I came home in quite relevant ways I was never able to do as a teacher. For example, weekends were actually free when I worked a corporate job, and that was true year-round. Weekends were never free when I was teaching, except during the summers when school was not in session. Overall, factoring in time spent on schoolwork at home on weeknights and weekends, I had significantly less free time as a high school teacher than I had as a private sector employee and supervisor.

Love the apprenticeship program idea.

How about including industrial arts back into our 9-12 grades in public schools. The sad fact that we "looked down" on the trades for years has come back to bite us. The world needs more electricians, plumbers, welders, mechanics, construction workers, heavy machine operators and public schools (with the amount of our tax dollars we put in) should provide a start in the trades.

I saw an interesting interview with a professor from Stanford who was also a farmer in the California basin. He said on his farm a person with skills/ingenuity to fix anything is valued so highly but that same person is looked down upon by the coastal elites at his college. There is nothing wrong with folks who shower AFTER they get home from work as opposed to before!!

Great idea

We have undervalued the trades, and vocational training, for too long.

Reinstate Vo-techs

One of the biggest mistakes made in Minnesota's education system was merging vocational-technical institutes with community colleges to form MnSCU. It took the focus away from trade skills, and replaced it with the misplaced idea that everyone needs a college education. Not every job is white-collar. Not every college skill provides the smarts needed in skilled trades. Now that we, as a society, have shot ourselves in the foot by neglecting to educate ourselves for the world we live in, it may be time to put focus back on vocational-technical institutes.