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Klobuchar addresses skills gap in Minnesota

Sen. Amy Klobuchar

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar visits every Minnesota county every year, and one of the concerns she hears deals with the skills gap that finds employers with job openings that aren't being met by qualified candidates.

"This is going to really start taking a toll on employment in Greater Minnesota," she said. "If we don't have workers, we start turning away contracts and business."

In a phone conversation with the News Tribune on Monday, Klobuchar, D-Minn., also briefly addressed her stance on the confirmation process for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

"I have already expressed my serious concern," she said. "I will be making an announcement this week."

U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said he will vote against confirming Gorsuch.

Both Franken and Klobuchar have targeted the skills gap in the past, and that's the issue Klobuchar clung to in her phone interview.

She told the News Tribune she is getting ready to introduce a bipartisan American Apprenticeship Act, along with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, that would fund tuition assistance programs for participants in apprenticeship programs.

The act is one of the topics of a two-day workforce tour that begins today in Duluth and hits five other northern Minnesota cities. It will feature Klobuchar staff members meeting with businesses and education leaders to discuss local initiatives to help bridge the skills gap.

In 2015, Klobuchar pushed for $5 million in grant money to strengthen apprenticeship programs. As of Feb. 1, 115 participants in Minnesota benefited from that funding, according to a news release from Klobuchar's office. By 2020, the money figures to provide training for 1,000 apprentices in the state.

While apprenticeships are commonly found in building trades, Klobuchar advocates for pressing their importance in office settings, laboratories and more.

"Employers are very interested in this," she said, explaining that it can be a valuable tool in familiarizing participants with job settings. Klobuchar said similar efforts in other parts of the world, such as Germany and Switzerland, have proven successful.

"Another thing we can do is encourage community colleges to provide teaching for high school students who can get a one- or two-year degree while in high school and be able to work right away (upon graduation)," she said. "That doesn't mean they can't go on to get advanced degrees while in the workplace with an employer offering to pay off student loans. ... That helps employers retain workers."

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