Longtime career option revived in new fields

Michael Roue enrolled at Lake Region State College with an interest in Information Technology (IT), but was unsure of his long-term career plan. Then, one day one of his IT instructors at Lake Region State College alerted him to the new Information Technology apprenticeship program the college was initiating.

Soon, Roue was one of the early apprentices in the LRSC IT Apprenticeship program. Lake Region State College partnered with Core Technology Services, the all-encompassing IT arm for the North Dakota University System.

“The opportunity to partner with CTS for IT apprentices is a solid example of how higher education can work directly with employers,” said Dr. Doug Darling, president of LRSC.

Lake Region State College is helping employers prepare future workers through Apprenticeships, blending academic study with hands-on, real-world experiences. Their varied programs, focusing on everything from cybersecurity and IT to nursing and more, build a highly skilled flow of talent for participating employers that typically stays around for the long term. They will also work with employers to build custom programs.  At the same time, LRSC is excited to partner with Golden Path Solutions, an up-and-coming ND startup helping students prepare for the future by getting them in front of employers and alternative education paths.

LRSC’s apprenticeship program allows an employer to sponsor and train a student with on-the-job experience while the student earns credit towards a degree.

At Lake Region State College, apprenticeships are available in Cyber Security Support Technician, Network Support Technician and the Helpdesk Technician that will result in AAS degrees in Information Technology.  Other apprenticeships in place with individuals receiving academic certificates or similar degrees are the Electronics Technician/Simulation degree, & Electromechanical Technician/ Technical Studies degree.  LRSC has developed apprenticeships in nursing and began the first Licensed Practical Nursing apprenticeship this fall.  Additional options within information technology and healthcare will be following soon.

The IT apprenticeships such as the one with CTS was built with Bush Innovation grant dollars awarded to LRSC. The purpose of the Bush Innovation grant is to build apprenticeships in information technology.

Information Technology brings a variety of people into the career through a variety of channels: on the job training, technical degree, university degree, internships, and now apprenticeships.

While LRSC is building these new apprenticeship programs, Golden Path Solutions (GPS) is working hard to make sure high-school students understand their skills, ideal careers that fit them, and potentially new education paths that will prepare them for their future jobs, including apprenticeships.

“When we are getting students across the state up in our application Compass, most students still think of their only option after graduating high school is a 4-year bachelor’s degree or a 2-year associates degree.  They don’t know that alternative programs like apprenticeships, certifications, or even on-the-job training are also paths to a great career,” says Patrick Mineer, CEO and founder of GPS.

GPS is rolling out a model that helps students assess their skills, talents, and aptitudes using their experiences and interests they have in school, including classes they love, activities they participate in, and hobbies they do in their spare time.  GPS also works with employers to identify the raw talents, skills, and education needed to succeed in specific roles, providing information that can be used for job descriptions, hiring, or talent management in their application, which can then be matched with students.

“If we can find a match between a student’s raw talents and an employer’s future workforce needs, we can create a win/win for both where a company can offer help with tuition, apprenticeship opportunities, and work agreements.  Partnering with a school like LRSC helps tailor that student’s education to learn exactly what they need to know for their future job, so when the student graduates, they know what they need to know on day one,” says Mineer.  GPS hopes to significantly grow both the number of students using the application and employers creating opportunities for students, working with organizations like LRSC to help prepare everyone for the future.

Today, Roue is an Information Security Apprentice at the North Dakota University System, Core Technology Services (CTS) based in Grand Forks, ND.

“The work experience is a big benefit,” Roue said. I’m working toward an Associate Degree in Cyber Security Support Technician, but gaining experience through my work-based learning at CTS.”

One of the big benefits of the apprenticeship program is working under a mentor.

“Their guidance is a huge part of the experience,” Roue said. “I can apply what I’m learning in the classroom to real world scenarios at CTS under the guidance of several mentors.

Lake Region State College hopes the apprenticeship program continues to grow in IT along with other careers, such as nursing, wind energy, automotive technology, and more.  They also hope to get the word out to students about these programs through their partnership with GPS, especially the opportunity to earn a degree while working on the job, earning dollars.

“Taking a work experience model and allowing students to earn their degrees while working instead of entering the workforce with the needed degree already in hand can alleviate the pressures created with a smaller workforce,” LRSC President Doug Darling said.

Brock Wigen is another CTS apprentice. Wigen was going to college in Fargo when his aunt alerted him to the apprenticeship program at LRSC.

“I was looking for opportunity to get in the IT field. Working with CTS has been great. Everyone is helpful and I can do real-world applications,” Wigen said.

Wigen is specializing in networking. Another apprentice, Michael Tezel is specializing in help desk.

All three (Roue, Wigen, and Tezel) have what it takes to succeed in the IT workforce, said Dr. Michelle Rakoczy, Associate Director Infrastructure & Operations for CTS.

Being part of the team while going to college also solidifies students as part of the corporate culture.

“These three have the drive. We hired that desire – students that might not have all the skills immediately, but are willing to learn,” Rakoczy said.

That willingness along with a program that assists students to earn their wage while attending college and learning skills-on-the-job may create an ideal solution for employers desperate to fill critical shortages.

The U.S. Department of Labor is hoping to strengthen registered apprenticeship programs.  In 2020,  the U.S. Department of Labor granted North Dakota Career and Technical Education an award of almost $450,000 for a project to expand and build the apprenticeships through innovations. The grant is increasing opportunities for apprenticeships in the Registered Apprentice Program (RAP), and will give opportunity to close gaps at the college level.

“The model of on the job training or work-based learning has been in place for years in the U.S., but not for non-traditional careers such as those requiring an academic certification or degree. Utilizing the standards developed by the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship, LRSC is able to develop a comprehensive program called LRSC Earn and Learn which serves both the employer partner and the individual student looking for a new option for student education, job opportunity and quality skills and competencies found in the best employees.  The number of U.S. registered apprenticeship programs grew 73% between 2009 and 2019. While the current programs at LRSC are only the beginning for ND, an apprenticeship program can be developed for most any career,” according to Melana Howe, who oversees the apprenticeship program at LRSC.

Industry partners include NDUS CTS, Northrup Grumman, Lutheran Home of the Good Shepherd with ongoing conversations with others who find difficulties filling their workforce needs with current methods of recruitment.

“The grant will help close skill gaps at the college level by aligning high school education and training with career and technical education training offered at two-year or community colleges,” Darling said.

Funds will be utilized to increase the percentage of non-traditional student/apprentices including females, under-served ethnic and race groups, the disabled, and military personnel, and their spouses. A comprehensive data management system with embedded continued quality improvement measures will provide an accurate summary with targeted marketing to fill the ND workforce gaps.

The partnership of colleges, employers, grant funds, and companies like Golden Path Solutions will continue to create opportunities for a strong and ample future workforce.  Reach out for more information about how LRSC can work with you to create an apprenticeship program for your future workers, and how GPS can help you identify talent and get you in front of students, the workforce of the future.