Apprentice Program to help fill Metro Transit driver shortage

Metro Transit is turning to one of the most time-tested methods of training workers to fill out its ranks with new bus drivers and mechanics – apprenticeships. Today, the regional transit agency announced it will be participating in the Minnesota Apprenticeship initiative, which will bring on as many as 200 new employees in the coming years.

The initiative is operated by the Minnesota Departments of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and Labor and Industry (DLI). It actively recruits apprentices in a number of key industries that are vital to Minnesota’s economy. By participating in the program, apprentices can earn a wage while being trained in an area with a high demand for workers.

“Minnesota’s economy is thriving, and the competition for drivers is intense across the entire industry,” said Metropolitan Council Chair Alene Tchourumoff, which oversees Metro Transit. “Metro Transit, school bus and other transportation companies are having trouble recruiting drivers. This program allows us to broaden the pool of talent we can draw from. We rely on our drivers to connect people safely and reliably with work, school and opportunities across the region.”

Metro Transit operates 130 bus routes, providing 260,000 trips a day. Currently, the transit service is about 90 drivers short of its full complement of nearly 1,600. Bus drivers at Metro Transit start at $19.94 an hour and are eligible for a generous benefits package. It is one of the few jobs that offers a pension to part-time workers. In addition to the apprenticeship program, Metro Transit is continuing to actively recruit drivers and mechanics.

“Apprentices are paid while they have an opportunity to work closely with veteran drivers in one-on-one session, group classes and ride-alongs,” said Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb. “When they’re behind the wheel, they will have support and guidance from the best. It’s a great opportunity to get into a skilled trade, where there is an immediate demand for workers.”

Metro Transit’s apprenticeship program was developed in partnership with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1005 as part of the Minnesota Apprenticeship Initiative (MAI) to expand registered apprenticeship as a workforce development tool. Participating employers receive grants of $5,000 for each apprentice to help offset the cost of training.

“In all skilled occupations across Minnesota, employers are seeking solutions to train new and existing workers for today’s more technical jobs,” said Ken Peterson, Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner. “Apprenticeships can be a proactive and productive solution to address this need.”

Metro Transit and ATU will kick off the program this month by enrolling 40 new Metro Transit bus operators. When the program reaches its peak with 200 apprentices, Metro Transit could become the state’s largest apprenticeship program.

Contact John Schadl at John.schadl@metc.state.mn.us or 651-308-6527.