Bill could close the skills gap

A bill in the state Legislature would create apprenticeship programs to prepare students.

With an abounding number of reports coming out on the skills gap facing the U.S. job market, everyone from education leaders to news commentators and elected officials has been working to find a workable solution to fill the gap.

One of the more ambitious ideas to close the gap comes from Minnesota Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, who chairs the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee. Bonoff’s proposed legislation would create apprenticeships for certain industries.

According to the most recent version of the bill, the state would establish a “PIPELINE project” (Private Investment/Public Education Labor-Industry Experience) that would develop competency standards in critical industries: manufacturing, health care services, information technology and agriculture.

Once the Department of Labor creates standards, Minnesotan educational institutions would create programs to provide the training to meet those standards or skill sets. Participating students could also benefit from a relationship with a company that invests in their education. Bonoff told the Minnesota Daily that she based the bill on an apprenticeship program where a company paid for participants’ education.

Colleges are graduating students that do not have all the necessary skills for the workplace. Rather than allowing businesses to have a say in school curriculum to make it more industry-based, Bonoff’s bill gives students the opportunity to gain real-world experience in the private market while earning their degrees. Similar apprenticeship programs are standard in Germany, which does not have a skills gap.

If passed, Bonoff’s bill will involve nearly a year of experimentation. Such experimentation is necessary to close the skills gap and to promote the state as a leader in several growing industries. We hope lawmakers support the bill.