The announcement from Electrolux in January that it would close a factory in St. Cloud where 835 people made Frigidaire freezers was bleak -- one of the biggest losses at a single Minnesota employer in recent years.

But it was also unusual because Electrolux said it would take a long time to do it: the plant would remain open through next year and, perhaps, into 2020. That gave state and local workforce development a chance to come up with opportunities to retrain Electrolux workers for other jobs.

On Tuesday, one major effort got off the ground with the start of an 18-month apprenticeship program in industrial manufacturing. The program combines classroom instruction with on-the-job teaching at Electrolux in courses on manufacturing processes, quality practices, maintenance, safety, first aid and technical math.

The goal for participants is an state-certified journey card as an Industrial Manufacturing Technician. Manufacturers in a variety of industries seek employees with that qualification.

"Participants can can go to any of companies that recognize a journey card," said Tammy Biery, executive director at Career Solutions, a St. Cloud career services firm that was tapped by the Department of Employment and Economic Development to help displaced Electrolux workers.

She said the program was a new idea made possible in part by knowing about Electrolux' plan so far ahead of the actual closing of the plant. "It is rare we have a layoff that has this much notice," Biery said.

More than 50 Electrolux workers signed up for the apprenticeship, which is being taught by instructors from St. Cloud Technical and Community College. Other partners in the effort are the Minnesota Regional Training Partnership Center of Excellence, the Minnesota AFL-CIO, International Association of Machinists Local Lodge 623 and Electrolux.

"We are glad to work with other community groups to provide this opportunity for our team," Peggy Berry, manager at the Electrolux plant, said in a statement.
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