BEMIDJI -- The Bemidji Career Academies, a high school program that pairs students with real-world learning opportunities, was among a handful of organizations throughout the state to receive part of a grant that totaled $1.5 million.

The portion of the grant that will land in Bemidji is $90,000. The grant will begin July 1 and extend through June 30, 2022. The recipients of the grant were announced Jan. 22.

“Youth Skills Training grants provide students with hands-on workforce training in high-demand, high-growth fields,” Gov. Tim Walz said in a press release. “Employers across the state are facing workforce shortages, and these innovative partnerships connect schools with local business to create career pathways for younger Minnesotans.”

The Bemidji Career Academies was one of 17 organizations to receive funding from the grant. Detroit Lakes Schools also received a portion of the funding.

Brian Stefanich, executive director of the career academies, said they can use the grant funding for a number of purposes, such as mentorship opportunities, student transportation, staff development and the innovation of new programs.

The Bemidji Career Academies connects students with businesses and industries to help them learn about various career opportunities available. The academies range from industries like aerospace technology to others such as the culinary arts.

The program has grown fairly quickly since it began in the fall of 2017. It expanded from just six initial academies to its current number of 18. Roughly 600 students in Bemidji High School are involved in the academies.

While the grant from the state will last through 2022, Stefanich said they should be able to reapply for it once that time comes around.

The press release that announced the recipients said the grant is part of a program through the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. The release said it was signed into law in 2017 “to create and provide employment training for student learners ages 16 and older in high-growth, high-demand occupations.” Walz doubled the size of the program in 2019 after its initial success.

Stefanich said a lot of the businesses that sponsor the academies have hired their most recent workers as a result of the program.

"That speaks volumes for our program," Stefanich said. “We're really excited because we think our programs with the academies are one of the best things we have going on, not only at the high school but in our community as far as workforce development."