As part of a two-day “Minnesota Workforce Tour,” staff members for Senator Amy Klobuchar met with leaders in business and education throughout numerous Northern Minnesota locations including Grand Rapids. During an afternoon visit to Grand Rapids High School (GRHS), staff were introduced to a new SKID machine located at the high school and part of a STEM collaboration between GRHS, Greenway, Nashwauk and Itasca Community College.

Grand Rapids High School (GRHS) and Itasca Community College (ICC) both hosted special visitors on Tuesday, March 28 as staff for U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-Minn.) took the afternoon to learn more about initiatives being taken at the local level to bridge a skills gap which has been identified by employers. The visit to Rapids is part of a two-day “Minnesota Workforce Tour” which had stops throughout Northern Minnesota including discussions with business and education leaders in Duluth, Cass Lake, Bemidji, Hibbing, Brainerd, Pequot Lakes and Grand Rapids.

In 2015, Klobuchar successfully pushed for a $5 million grant from the Department of Labor to “strengthen partnerships between community colleges and local businesses and expand apprenticeship programs” according to a March 27 news release.

Known as the Minnesota Apprentice Initiative (MAI), the program, as of February, has 115 active apprentices, a participation advocates hope will produce more highly skilled workers, reduce turnover, increase productivity and build a more diverse workforce. By 2020, MAI hopes to provide training for approximately 1,000 apprentices in growing fields such as advanced manufacturing, health care services and information technology.

Last year, 66 percent of Minnesota manufacturers cited difficulty finding workers with the correct necessary skills and experience, an increase from 40 percent in 2010.

In the fall of 2016, Klobuchar, along with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), introduced the bipartisan American Apprenticeship Act, which would create and expand tuition assistance programs for participants in pre-apprenticeship and registered apprenticeship programs.

According to a news release, “For workers, apprenticeships provide an opportunity to stay in the labor market, earn a living wage, and pursue a nationally-recognized credential. For employers, apprenticeships provide a custom trained workforce, reduce turnover, and improve safety outcomes, giving American businesses an edge in the global marketplace.”

As part of her vision for a more skilled workforce, Klobuchar and her team have been evaluating the importance of early skills training for students, promoting the importance of opportunities for training on site at local community and technical colleges as well as high schools.

The visit to Grand Rapids on Tuesday was the second location on the team’s two-day venture, following a morning at Lake Superior College in Duluth. The visits, according to a Klobuchar staff member, serve as an effort to highlight the local stories of workforce needs and training opportunities as well as offer further information concerning the current needs of employers and potential apprentices.