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Doug Darling (Submitted photo by Lake Region State)

Earn and Learn: Apprenticeship agreement at Lake Region State seeks to tackle workforce gaps using old methods in a new way

Editor’s note: Earlier this year Lake Region State College signed an apprenticeship agreement with the North Dakota Department of Labor. With this agreement, the Department of Labor recognizes LRSC’s ability to provide apprenticeships in four areas: IT Specialist, IT Cyber Support Technician, Electronics Technician, and Electro Mechanical Assembly. 

A few years in the making, Lake Region State President Doug Darling said the Earn and Learn Apprenticeship program at LRSC is an exciting endeavor for the campus.

How will these apprenticeships work?

Apprenticeships are nothing new. They’ve been around for thousands of years, back to even 1800 B.C. Apprenticeships are designed to get skilled people into their occupation. The most common apprenticeships that people are familiar with around here are in what they call the skilled trades: plumbing, electrical, metal work.

What we’ve been doing is looking at some more modern apprenticeships and some non-traditional apprenticeships. We’ve been working with the folks in the IT field for a number of years because they can’t fill all of their job openings. And we were seeing nationally about a 40 to 50 percent decline in enrollment in students in information technology programs. So, we checked with the Department of Career and Tech (Education) and the North Dakota Department of (Public) Instruction and they looked at their course codes in K12 and they were seeing fewer students taking IT courses in high school. So we had a real mismatch here. We had a high need to fill jobs and very low interest on the student side.

In order to try and get a skilled workforce in to fill those jobs we started to look at what other models can we use to that will get students into that workforce sooner. So, apprenticeships are a mix of on-the-job, hands-on training and related classroom training oftentimes provided by colleges, but not always.

We worked with the Information Technology Council of North Dakota at the time and we worked with the  Department of Labor and other folks in the industry to see if we could do apprenticeships in the IT field. We found a couple of models in other states where they’re doing just that. … We started working with Harper College in Illinois and looking at the apprenticeship model they’ve done.

We’re working on what’s called a dual-model so students will not only complete an apprenticeship, but when they’ve completed their apprenticeship they’ll also complete an associate’s degree at the same time.

In the IT field the entry level had been a bachelor’s degree for many years, but most of the companies now, they’re not finding those baccalaureate prepared people so they’re looking at what can we do to fill these? So, they’re actually hiring based on skills and industry certifications and the degrees are secondary.

How long has Lake Region been working on this topic?

We started working on this two or three years ago and just this past spring we signed our apprenticeship agreement with the Department of Labor that allows us to be an apprenticeship sponsor.

There are four key areas this program is based on related to IT. Why those areas?

They’re key areas because there’s a mismatch between the number of job openings and the number of students enrolled in programs. Part of our mission is to help meet the labor market’s needs in our region and so if our employers aren’t able to find employees then part of our mission is to help train the employees for them. (At the end of July) we had a signing with Northrop Grumman out at Grand Sky and they’re going to be doing an apprentice in electronics technicians.

Why are apprenticeships important for students?

It allows them to earn and learn. The apprentice is hired by the employer and starts working and starts getting on the job training. The employer then sponsors or pays for training and they’re related classroom instruction. So, they’ve got a job and they’re getting related classroom instruction paid for. At the end of their apprenticeship program they will have a full-time job and a college degree and they shouldn’t have any student loans because their training has been paid for by the employer.

That sounds like a sweet deal for the student, doesn’t it?

Anything else you want to add?

We’re not the only ones doing apprenticeships out here. (North Dakota State College of Science) and (Bismarck State College) have been doing apprenticeships for many years in the traditional apprenticeship areas. The difference with ours is that it’s in the non-traditional occupations. 

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook has been covering higher education at the Grand Forks Herald since May 2018. She previously served as the multimedia editor and cops, courts and health reporter at the Dickinson Press from January 2016 to May 2018.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

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