Union Apprenticeship Programs are Paving a New Path to the Middle Class

Careers in the construction trades are increasing in demand, and as more well-trained workers rise to the occasion to fill those jobs, they’re breaking down old stigmas.

The resources made available at our school have proved to leave graduates just as well off, if not better, than their nonunion or traditional college graduate counterparts. You can learn more about what makes us different by taking a virtual tour of the 50,000-square foot FTIUM facility in Minnesota on the FTIUM website.

A recent study by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) found that nonunion construction workers earned an average $18,300 less per year than their unionized counterparts. Based on data from the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Census Bureau, the study also showed that nonunion workers were significantly less likely to have access to health insurance or a retirement plan at work.

“Compared with two- and four-year colleges, joint labor-management apprenticeships in construction deliver a more robust training regimen, similar diversity outcomes, competitive wages and benefit levels, and comparable tax revenue for states and local governments, while leaving graduates entirely free of burdensome student loan debt,” said ILEPI Policy Director Frank Manzo IV. While FTIUM is a 2-year college, it serves students from high school, through their apprenticeship, and into the Associate of Applied Science in Construction Technologies Degree Program.

In fact, in terms of benefits and wages, graduates of union apprenticeship programs tend to compare most similarly with workers with bachelor’s or associate’s degrees. Even more interestingly, nonunion construction workers more closely resembled other workers with high school diplomas or GEDs.

To break it down by the numbers, construction apprenticeships offer up to 41 percent more hours of training than bachelor’s programs at public universities, and a whopping 183 percent more than associate degrees at community colleges

This research also found that compared to public universities, joint-labor management programs enrolled a more diverse force of trainees, which has been proven to lead to higher pay. 

Producing graduates that are properly trained helps to raise the standards of safety for the overall industry, meets the increasing need for finishing trade workers, and presents a much greater group of people with the opportunity to pave their own path to the middle class, by their own means. 

Gone are the days where the only path to good-paying jobs and family-sustaining benefits was with a college degree. Visit https://www.ftium.edu/ to learn more.

FTIUM Announces Second Virtual Job Fair

The Finishing Trades Institute of the Upper Midwest (FTIUM) is continually adapting to the quickly-evolving workforce demands of our industry. Thanks to the success of our first career fair back in April which featured Congresswoman Angie Craig as our keynote speaker, FTIUM will be holding its second Virtual Career Fair on Thursday, August 12 starting at 9:30 A.M. 

Employers will host their own virtual booths where local jobseekers, students, graduates, and DC 82 members can visit with hosts and learn about each company. Employers will share any job openings they have, and visitors can chat or video chat to have any of their questions answered.

Our August Career fair will feature Rick Martagon from the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry as keynote speaker, along with a speech from John Burcaw, the Director of Academic Education at FTIUM, and more.

Registered attendees will even be able to submit virtual applications, and may have the chance to set up a follow-up interview.

This is an opportunity to explore local, trusted companies, get used to the interview process, and learn tips and tricks on how to show that you’re a great job candidate and a great worker.

Register now! If you’d like to attend, all you need to do is fill out your information. It will take 30 seconds! Don’t miss this great opportunity! 

We’re looking forward to the event, and e-see you soon! 

Click this link to sign up now! Don’t miss this great opportunity!

Announcing FTIUM’s first Virtual Career Fair!

Announcing FTIUM’s first Virtual Career Fair
April 7, 9:30 A.M.

As vaccine rollout begins and we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel COVID-19 has created, the Finishing Trades Institute of the Upper Midwest (FTIUM) is continually adapting to socially-distanced life. In an effort to continue prioritizing the safety and comfort of its students and employers, FTIUM will be holding its first ever Virtual Career Fair on April 7th beginning at 9:30 A.M.

Multiple employers from the construction industry will host their own virtual booths and share job openings they have for interested students, DC 82 members, and other members of our community. 

Registered attendees will be able to learn more about local contractors by submitting skills transcripts, video chatting with recruiters, and setting up follow-up interviews.

Congresswoman Angie Craig will be giving a keynote speech alongside FTIUM’s Director of Academic Education, John Burcaw. 

This career fair serves as a two-fold opportunity: not only for students to apply for high-paying union jobs, but also to allow employers from across the region access to excellent, well-trained candidates.

FTIUM is proud to help its students and other community members open doors to their future careers in every way we can. This is a fantastic opportunity for students to get used to the interview process and learn tips and tricks on how to show that you’re a great job candidate, and for employers to recruit top-notch talent.

Registration is open now for employers and career seekers! All you need to do is to take 5 minutes to fill out your information. 

Student Registration

Employer Registration

Don’t miss this great opportunity!

FTIUM Embraces Mental Health First Aid Courses

TW: suicide, substance abuse

At Finishing Trades Institute of the Upper Midwest (FTIUM), students are offered access to various programs like Drywall Finishing, Commercial Painting, and Glazing to fit the unique career needs of each student. But it’s not only about trades training.

As part of our Helping Hands initiative, the FTIUM takes actionable steps to provide mental health illness and substance use disorder awareness and education while promoting access to Employee Assistance Program (EAP) benefits offered by TEAM through District Council 82.

Construction workers have the second-highest suicide and substance use disorder rate in any industry. In fact, data shows that construction workers are three times more likely to take their own life than the rest of the population. Understanding this gravity,  we worked with the IUPAT, Finishing First, and mental health professionals from Recovery Resources to deliver Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) to all employees of the FTIUM. This vital training best prepares first aiders to respond to students experiencing a mental health challenge or crisis.

Staff are trained on recognizing mental health warning signs and the most effective ways to step in to help proactively. The staff at FTIUM acknowledges that to have a truly holistic training model, we need to address students’ needs beyond proper safety training and certifications.

FTIUM strives to create a positive and supportive school environment. Students are encouraged to talk openly about their struggles to ensure that mental health is no longer a taboo topic in their future workplaces. By promoting an open, empathetic culture at school, those behaviors will transfer to their workplaces and foster a stigma-free environment for generations of future coworkers.

As COVID-19 continues to weigh heavily on our community and many people are out of work or isolated at home, mental health awareness and training are more important than ever. FTIUM’s Change the Culture of Construction Program raises awareness for issues like substance abuse, suicide, and more within the finishing trades industry.

FTIUM will continue to provide resources like these courses to ensure all of our students feel supported at our facilities and into their careers. We will keep talking about it, educating one another on it, and de-stigmatizing it. There is nothing more important than our health – mental and physical. The training center may be a space to work, but they are also a safe space to ask for help if you need it.

How diversity and inclusion in the building trades will boost our economy

If you walked onto a job site in Minneapolis in 2011, you’d see a vast majority of white men aged from about thirty to sixty years old. About a decade ago, that status quo was only beginning to be challenged. The economy wasn’t in a great place after the recession, and it was severely impacting the construction industry. Infrastructure projects were stalled, costing taxpayers billions annually. An underground economy was flourishing where employers routinely misclassified workers as independent contractors instead of employees – a practice that specifically prays on non-white workers. The problems were clear as day, but steps weren’t being proactively taken to mitigate them.

Fast forward to 2020: the Finishing Trades Institute of the Upper Midwest received a generous grant from the Minnesota Department of Labor to foster diversity and inclusion in our apprenticeship program. Apprenticeship participants shot up to 47.9 percent women and minorities. Those same job sites that were mostly white men in 2011 became more diverse, and the benefits were immediately clear.

When a concerted effort was put into training young women and individuals from diverse backgrounds, we predicted that we’d start to engage people from communities that we hadn’t before.

What we didn’t predict is the almost immediate shift in culture at our training facility and on local job sites. Instructors became more invested in the success of all their students, even during the onset of the pandemic. They ramped up communication to ensure students stayed engaged and on track; and students started taking more initiative to get advanced certificates.

Employers started talking more about the importance of diversity and inclusion on their job sites, and the benefits it brings for the mental wellbeing of their employees. We started receiving more engagement from parents of high schoolers and school counselors who were previously more likely to guide students toward traditional four-year colleges. 

A sense of true solidarity was shown when apprentices noticed their colleagues struggling in the workplace, and they began to reach out more to provide emotional support. Though that was what we had all wanted and needed for the past four years, we could never have predicted the impact the conscious decision to become more inclusive would have.

Though we still can’t predict all of the effects these positive efforts will have on our industry, we can make informed guesses thanks to ongoing research by the McKinsey Institute. Based on a year-long research study that focused on the correlation between companies’ profitability and diversity, we can predict that employers who prioritize diversity in their hiring practices are likely to see increased cash flow by about 200 percent over about three years. Apprentices’ performances will more than likely continue to improve. If our employers continue to hire from our diverse program, those employees are about 35 percent more likely to outperform their peers who work at less diverse companies.

One of the most common arguments about diversity in the building trades is that “women don’t want to work these jobs,” or even worse, “construction is a man’s job.” To put it simply, women hadn’t been included in recruitment efforts until very recently. When FTIUM began to specifically reach out to young women and young women of color, they started enrolling in our programs and quickly climbing the ranks in their respective trades. By diversifying our applicant pool and taking a competency-based approach to enrollment in 2020, more women began building their careers in the finishing trades industry.

The women members of the IUPAT experience no pay gap thanks to worker protections that were hard won by consistent, collective actions by tens of thousands of union members. This continues to influence contractors across the country; If those contractors want to earn respect from the public and get the biggest jobs in their regions, they have to first eliminate the pay gap. Efforts like these are what fuels our fire to continue recruiting and training individuals from diverse backgrounds.

The toughest pill to swallow for those of us who work in the building trades industry is that we have been stifling our economic growth for decades by not putting the effort into diversifying our workforce. It’s time for the building trades industry to collectively take a giant step forward and ensure our future will foster economic growth opportunities for employers and workers of all backgrounds. Our economy, our culture, and the future of all of our communities depend on it.

APEX Worker Readiness Graduation, Fall 2020

On Friday, October 30th, 2020, 16 students graduated from the Finishing Trades Institute of the Upper Midwest (FTIUM) 5-week Career Readiness Program, a program that prepares students for entry into a Finishing Trades Apprenticeship. The completion of this challenging program, alone, is a clear sign of their commitment to the pursuit of their new craft careers.

This program is funded in part by a $90,000 APEX Construction Career Readiness Training grant the FTIUM received through the MN Dept. of Labor and Industry. The grant funding goal is to address Minnesota’s racial and economic disparities by increasing female and minority participation in registered apprenticeships.

The students were thrilled when Chet’s Shoes brought their expertise and mobile boot truck onsite and personally-fitted each graduate with a brand-new pair of Redwing work boots, which will become an everyday essential in their new career. The boots are just the beginning of the opportunities that will become available to these graduates.

Of the 16 graduates, 8 students boasted perfect attendance, and 5 students are already placed with employers.

It goes to show that FTIUM’s programs produce hardworking, successful individuals.

We wish every one of our APEX Worker Readiness graduates a lifetime of success in the finishing trades and beyond! Our instructors and staff send our heartfelt congratulations to all of our graduates:

Nye Soe K Maw
Natalie Pollard
Blut Doh
Hollin Hackett
Robert Brunt
Alan Thavis
Breanna McDade
Chong Xieng
Hser Plaw
Barbara Dominguez
Richard Dominguez
Christie Wagner
Kwar Nieboer
Huriel Vazquez
Shae Htai
Lily Mitchell

Apprenticeship Programs are Breaking Stigmas and Launching Careers

Diversity and inclusion research has shown how each of us harbors subconscious biases, whether we like it or not. When we see an individual who’s outside of our normal conscious awareness, we hold stereotypes about them. If two identical twins stood next to one another, one wearing a suit and the other wearing a construction harness and hardhat, which would you assume made more money?

Of course, many of us would assume the twin in the suit made more money. What we don’t know is that our suited twin has over $200,000 in college debt and has trouble getting hired in his field of expertise, which he worked over a decade to achieve. The twin in the hardhat? He’s steadily paying back his credit card debt and getting paid while earning an Associate’s Degree in Construction Technologies. Both twins have worked hard and should earn only the best – but right now, our economy’s workforce demands are in construction’s favor.

Apprenticeships in skilled trades have long been stigmatized. Even though apprentices can earn 4-year degrees, careers in the building and finishing trades are often thought of as “less than” by many parents and higher education institutions. But thought leaders in higher education are beginning to change their tune. Students are looking at their higher education options closely, and weighing their benefits based on results, not outdated stigmas.

In the past few years, local high school counselors have begun to push apprenticeship programs like ours at Finishing Trades Institute of the Upper Midwest to students in the same ways they’ve been pushing traditional colleges for decades. Despite the challenges COVID-19 has brought to the table recently, students are thriving in the hybrid hands-on and classroom programs, and eager to launch their careers in the finishing trades after they graduate high school.

The average annual salary in Minnesota is about $62,876. Many parents and counselors are surprised when they learn that the average salary of an FTIUM graduate is above the state average, at about $70,000 per year. Students also learn and experience the real expectations and demands their career will have. If it turns out to be something they’re not interested in long-term, they can make that choice early on before they accrue unnecessary student debt.

Some say that there isn’t much job mobility in the finishing trades, and that apprentices will get stuck in a career path that becomes under-stimulating over time. This assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. Apprentices can climb the ranks to journeypersons, and with the support of a union, can become foremen, project managers, and get business training in order to become contractors and start their own companies.

Our predisposed ideas about blue-collar workers are still stuck in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Because blue-collar workers, construction firms, and unions are fighting to keep our economy afloat during a pandemic, many locals are starting to open their eyes to the unsung heroes of our economy. Not only are these workers deemed essential, but they’re still creating technological innovations that will make our region safer to live in during and after COVID-19.

Subconscious biases are shown to change over long periods of time. Once it’s widely known through generations that careers in the finishing trades are lucrative and require extensive knowledge and technological expertise, the bias will change. Once federal funding is granted to infrastructure projects, finishing trades workers will be the ones responsible for fixing hundreds of long-overdue safety issues that have plagued our nation for decades.

Instead of our workforce being at a deficit like it is now, traditional higher education institutions will need to compete with Career Training Education (CTE) and prove that their offered paths can provide as much success. Slowly but surely, the education industry is opening its eyes to apprenticeships and CTE and the benefits that they provide, like ongoing training and support after graduation, industry job leads, and the security that comes with union membership; benefits that many traditional higher education institutions severely lack.

John Burcaw is the Director of Academic Education at the Finishing Trades Institute of the Upper Midwest.


ANNOUNCING: Summer 2020 Online Classes


We have the following classes available online for continuing education classes starting on May 11th. If you would like to take advantage of any of these classes, please go to the website @ftium.edu to get registered. You will then get an email back with instructions for how to log into the online classes and a confirmation email with a Zoom log in codes and meeting id for the zoom classes.



This class will cover the requirements for the regular ICRA class needed to work in some of our hospital systems and it also cover the new concerns with the COVID-19 virus and any other viruses that may cause harm to the workers or the patience. This will be an online Zoom class that will take two 4-hour nights to complete.

May 20-21st 4-8pm

June 3-4th 4-8pm



This class is an online class that will cover the basic Rules of OSHA on a job. This class is also available in Spanish.



This class is a more in-depth look at safety on the jobsite. It may be required by some general contractors that a Forman on each jobsite has this level of training. This class is also available in Spanish.


Aerial lift 2-hour supplement

This class is a 2-hour Zoom presentation with PowerPoint. It is a supplement to the Overton Lift Training that we do here at the school. It covers the new ANSI 92.2 standards that will be required in June 2020. You must have a current unexpired Overton Aerial lift card in your possession for this class to be recognized on a jobsite.

May 14th 5-7pm

May 19th 4-6pm


Graco University for spray classes

We will have 2 tracks in the Graco University that will be 4 hours a piece.

Commercial Painter

Drywall Finishers


FTI UM 3/12/20 Statement on Coronavirus (COVID-19)

The FTI of the Upper Midwest is remaining current on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China, and has begun to spread around the globe. We are monitoring developments, reviewing our protocols, and preparing for appropriate actions as the situation potentially evolves.

As expected, Coronavirus (COVID-19) is now appearing in Minnesota. We are continually monitoring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and MN Department of Health’s recommendations regarding preventive measures we can all take to manage the potential outbreak of COVID-19. No vaccine is currently available. Symptoms of this illness include fever, coughing and shortness of breath.

The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus.
The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person.
Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

Prevention steps include:
Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. It is recommended to cover a cough with your elbow or sneeze into a tissue, not into your hands.
Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not readily available.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Stay home or go home if you’re feeling sick with cold symptoms or fever.
Avoid touching your face.
Avoid shaking hands if possible. It may seem awkward, but it may prevent the spreading of the illness.
It is suggested that paper towels be used to dry hands after washing. Evidence has shown that if hands are not completely washed clean, that air dryers can make the virus air born.

If sick or symptomatic, stay home except to get medical care. Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home.

As epidemics/pandemics can change quickly and unpredictably, it will be important to stay updated on the latest information regarding Coronavirus. It is our intent to not overload you with information, but updates will be sent as deemed necessary. If you have questions specifically related to the Coronavirus, you may go directly to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) webpage. Also, be alert for updates from the IUPAT, District Council 82 and your employer regarding Coronavirus (COVID-19).

We remain open and fully operational and at this time have made no decisions to suspend or postpone classes. As current policy dictates, any absence from a training class excused or otherwise must be made up at the next available makeup day and prior to the end of the semester. FTI-UM faculty will ensure adequate makeup opportunities are scheduled.
Contact the FTI-UM office with questions or concerns at (651) 379-9600.