Labor leaders and various industries recently celebrated the 85th anniversary of a federal law that laid the groundwork for registered apprenticeship programs in the United States, including Minnesota. Apprenticeships are positions where workers can earn while they learn—meaning they can master specific skills while on the job.
But policy experts say meaningful opportunities are still hard to come by for Black workers. The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies has issued a new report that says structural barriers still limit success for Black workers through these programs.
The Center’s senior analyst for workforce policy, Justin Nalley, said it starts with enrollment. “Black apprentices only make up 9% of registered apprenticeship programs,” said Nalley, “but we make up 12% of the workforce.”
There are also gaps for Black workers in completing these programs, and the ones that do are often excluded from higher-wage jobs. Nalley said data collection is an issue, with many programs not including race in their reporting.
Available data for Minnesota show that in 2021, people of color made up nearly 20% of apprentices, but the information wasn’t broken down for specific racial groups.
In seeking program equity, Nalley said administrators should weave in support for “wrap around” services and scheduling flexibility—noting these are common barriers for Black workers wanting to advance their career through an apprenticeship.
“Can we make it to the apprenticeship program?—Transportation,” said Nalley. “Do we have somebody to be able to watch [our] kids? —Child care. Are we able to provide lunch for that day?—Food services. Are we able to afford the equipment and materials that it takes?”
Last year, the U.S. Department of Labor issued grants aimed at modernizing apprenticeships and boosting representation of workers of color in registered programs.
Currently, roughly 600,000 apprentices are enrolled in programs across the country.
Mike Moen writes for the Minnesota News Connection. Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.
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