When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, life changed for all Americans. For Minnesota’s construction trades apprentices, work while continuing to learn a career took on new challenges.
“We ate in our cars, constantly cleaned our tools, and kept our distance from each other,” said Heather Oehrlein, a third year Pipe Fitter apprentice from the Twin Cities, who was helping build a new addition to a factory when the pandemic hit.
As the pandemic continued and Governor Walz designated construction as a critical industry, Minnesota’s Labor Movement came together to look for solutions to help apprentices continue to do their on the job training safely.
To help keep Minnesota’s apprenticeships on track, the Minnesota Training Partnership (MTP), the educational arm of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, partnered with Lincoln Electric and the American Association of Community Colleges (with a Department of Labor Grant) to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to more than 1,000 apprentices at no personal cost.
“During a very tough time for the apprentices we work with, our ability to provide them with PPE has been a game changer,” said MTP Executive Director Jerome Balsimo. “They now have top of the line safety gear and don’t have to worry about the cost of that equipment. This will help them complete their apprenticeships and move their careers forward.”
“Probably the biggest difference that it's made is not having to share as much of my equipment with other people,” said Oehrlein, who is now working on a hospital expansion project. “I have more control over how my tools and my hood are stored and used so I can make sure that they're cleaned and kept in good condition. I think it has also helped provide a little piece of mind, knowing that I have to go out and spend my own money in an unsure economy.”
MTP’s partnership with Lincoln Electric will continue into the fall and is expected to provide PPE to at least 1,500 Building Trades Apprentices.