Legislature pushes for more student work experience

A proposed bill would create a new apprenticeship program for students.

Clint Birtzer

Legislators weighed a new proposal Tuesday that would streamline the way Minnesota colleges and universities partner with employers for apprenticeship programs.

The Senate’s Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee discussed the plan, which would create a dual-track education system and establish competency standards for college students in manufacturing, health care sciences and information technology industries.

Bill author Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, said she introduced the proposal to address the state’s need to consolidate institutions’ practices and to teach students about the realities of the workforce early on. She said the bill is a necessary step in state higher education reform.

“Students need to know what they need to be trained in,” Bonoff said.

She said state legislators should address the disparity between school and work experiences and that this could be a model that encourages other industries to jump on board in the future.

The bill mandates that the University of Minnesota partner with the state’s Department of Employment and Economic Development to develop new information technology apprenticeships that would give students academic credit and work experience.

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system would also collaborate with the Department of Labor and Industry to create apprenticeships in advanced manufacturing and health science programs.

Amy Walstien, director of education and workforce development policy at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, said at the committee meeting that recent graduates face a difficult transition when entering the workforce and that the state needs to work to fix that.

By 2020, more than 70 percent of jobs in Minnesota will require post-secondary education, according to a 2012 national report from Georgetown University.

The idea of the proposal is to boost the number of options students have to work in their chosen fields while still in college and give them experiential learning, Bonoff said.

The bill asks for $300,000 to establish the pilot programs, but the proposal may face setbacks at the Legislature because state leaders are focusing on removing redundancies from Minnesota laws this session. Still, the bill passed the committee Tuesday, and another will review it in the coming weeks.

Bonoff said she drafted the bill after seeing how the manufacturing company Buhler in Plymouth collaborated with Dunwoody College of Technology. The company picked five skilled high school students to work part time and paid for their education to prepare them for the trade.

By getting involved in these types of programs early in their schooling, students will see the benefits later, Bonoff said.

“For Minnesota to embark on this journey,” she said, “it would give us a leg up.”