As Minnesota nurses prepare for a strike in less than two weeks, Gov. Tim Walz's office announced Thursday that he would direct an additional $2.4 million into the state's free program to train nursing assistants.

The spending boost is meant to help deal with Minnesota's persistent nursing shortages, according to Walz's office. Nursing assistants are the sixth-highest job in demand in the state, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

"The success of this program is a testament to Minnesota's ability to collaboratively address complex problems," Walz said in a statement released by his office.

The aid for the state's Next Generation Nursing Assistant initiative will come from Minnesota's COVID-19 management appropriation fund. The program provides free training, books and uniforms, and covers the cost of the certification exam.

Walz's office said 1,370 Minnesotans have been recruited and trained through the program and that the additional funding will allow it to continue through February. He has sought funding from the Legislature to make the program permanent.

The news comes as about 15,000 Twin Cities and Duluth hospital nurses gave a 10-day notice of strikes for three days starting Sept. 12 if they don't come to terms on overdue three-year contracts.

A "crisis of retention" motivated the strike decision, said Mary Turner, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association and an intensive care nurse at North Memorial Health in Robbinsdale. Unless pay and benefits are substantially improved, she said, the continued loss of nurses will leave hospitals dangerously understaffed.