Symposium highlights union role in creating a quality workforce

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More than 100 labor, business, education and government leaders came together at the University of Minnesota on May 27 to discuss the future of workforce training in Minnesota.

The Office of University Economic Development sponsored the symposium to explore unions’ role in creating effective workforce training programs.

Thomas Giessler, director of Vocational Education Training and Policy for German Trade Unions, outlined Germany’s integrated economic development, education and workforce training programs.

The German system relies on labor, business, education and government to jointly create high quality workforce training programs, Giessler said. Their goal: to constantly align worker training with industry’s needs in the global marketplace.

Most of the funding for the training programs comes from industry, with state and federal governments providing the remainder, he explained.

Giessler said he simply didn’t understand the U.S. system, in which individual students, not their prospective employers, often foot the bill for worker education.

“I don’t understand…how are these young people living?” he said. “How do they pay their bills, buy their food, their clothes and so on? Is it the bank of Mama & Papa?”

With the encouragement of Governor Mark Dayton’s administration, Minnesota unions, employers, educators and the Department of Labor & Industry are working to improve worker training and education programs.

Jessica Looman, assistant commissioner of the Department of Labor & Industry, outlined two key aspects of improved programs: market-focused training and a better funding model.

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who also spoke at the symposium, underscored the important role played by unions.

“By participating with business, education and government in worker education programs, by coming up with standards that students must meet, by creating strong training programs, unions are playing an important role in ensuring a quality workforce,” he said. “This is how civilized countries develop their workforces for the future.”

View a PDF of Giessler’s presentation, “The Role of Trade Unions in Worker Education and Training in Germany.”