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Ehlert: A solution for higher education

For years, North Dakota's higher education system has been a statewide concern. There have been numerous legislative discussions, a voter referendum to repeal it altogether and now Gov. Doug Burgum's task force.

Key problems include poor graduation rates, significant college debt and educations that don't meet business and industry needs. It's time to look at an underutilized education model that's been available for centuries — the joint apprenticeship.

It's National Apprenticeship Week, and I'm convinced the apprenticeship model can solve the growing education deficiency of career readiness. Members of the building and construction trades have been using this model for decades. Contractors and the labor force come together to jointly manage an education system, combining on-the-job education with classroom instruction.

Instead of simply learning theories, our members apply real-world applications at construction sites. Union members learn by doing. Additionally, apprentices get paid for their education instead of paying. Instead of racking up thousands in debt, our member apprentices work for our contractors; earning and learning to become a journeyperson.

Additionally, by working with private industry, this education model adjusts in real time to address changing industry demands. We work with our contractors to learn exactly what is needed to get the job done. More importantly, these joint-apprenticeship programs are privately funded. We don't ask the taxpayers of North Dakota to pay, individual unions handle training.

If you have a family member exploring post-secondary education options, I encourage you to discover the possibilities of joint-apprenticeship for real-time, low-cost, career readiness education. There are 15 labor organizations in the State Building Trades, covering all aspects of construction — foundation to finish - that all use apprenticeships.

Visit www.ndbtu.org or North Dakota Building & Construction Trades Council on Facebook for more information.

Ehlert is president of the North Dakota Building and Construction Trades Council.

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