More Idaho workers than ever enrolled in apprenticeships this year, broadening the potential for state workforce gains in a tight labor market.
According to the Idaho Department of Labor, a total of 1,179 new apprentices enrolled in apprenticeships in 2022, with 81 new apprenticeship programs registered throughout Idaho. Enrollments are up 52.7% from 772 in 2021, and the number of completed apprenticeships has more than doubled.
Additionally, 455 employers in Idaho offer apprenticeship programs and over 2,000 people are active apprentices.
The North Idaho College Workforce Training Center has been at the forefront of this trend, having recently added several new apprenticeship programs. The dental assistant program had its first graduate this fall and two brand new programs, construction and heavy equipment, roll out in January.
"There’s still time to enroll for anyone interested in starting an apprenticeship in heavy equipment or construction,” said Colleen Hoffman, NIC Workforce Training Center customized training coordinator. "These programs can be a life-changing experience. They set apprentices on the pathway to be a journeyman, which are some of the highest-paid jobs in the industry.”
In 2020, the NIC Workforce Training Center surveyed 200 housing-related contractors to verify and determine the regional demand.
“Overwhelmingly, the survey results indicated our region needed more construction skills and heavy equipment operator skills," Hoffman said. "So, we applied for, and were awarded, a $524,000 grant from the Idaho Workforce Development Council."
Brenda Hamilton, NIC Workforce Training Center Apprenticeship Programs manager, said the programs she coordinates — plumbing, electrical and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) — have been setting enrollment records since the pandemic. Oftentimes employers will pay for an employee’s tuition, but other payment options exist like the Idaho Launch program. Idaho Launch can cover up to $7,500 of a course with no requirements other than being an Idaho resident with intentions to work within the state after completion.
“The four-year college route isn’t for everyone," Hamilton said. "We have a lot of working families. We’ve got the talent pool here in North Idaho and there is definitely an employer need. Apprenticeship programs are the bridge that connects them."
Registered apprenticeships are increasingly viewed as a talent pipeline that can help address worker shortages — one of the most pressing workforce challenges for the state and the nation. Businesses that register their apprenticeships with the U.S. Department of Labor can access talent trained by federal and state-funded programs like Idaho Launch.
“We need to make sure workers see good wages,” U.S. Secretary of Labor Martin Walsh said during a recent stop in Boise. “We also need to make sure they have the skills they need for good jobs in demand.”
Walsh made his remarks in November during a keynote speech commemorating National Apprenticeship Week at the Pacific Northwest Apprenticeship Education Conference.
Statistically, apprenticeships put graduates on paths to greater comparative financial success. The annual mean wage for workers in Idaho is $47,940, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average national salary for a registered apprenticeship graduate is $77,000. In their lifetimes, apprenticeship graduates make an average of $300,000 more than peers who don’t complete such a program.
Apprentices are paid on the job and earn guaranteed wage increases. They graduate with a nationally recognized industry credential — a ticket into the largest growth sectors for high-paying jobs, like cybersecurity and technology.
“For people looking at getting re-skilled or skilled-up in certain areas, apprenticeship can help,” Walsh said. "Apprenticeship is of value for employers as well, particularly right now. In this administration, we’re expanding apprenticeship programs, we’re celebrating them, we’re diversifying them and we’re also investing.”
Non-traditional recruitment and creation
Hamilton spoke about how non-traditional apprenticeships also benefit workers across Idaho.
“We are not creating students," Hamilton said. "We are creating employees."
Women are underrepresented in Idaho’s trades and in apprenticeship numbers. As of the second quarter of 2022, only one-fourth of those enrolled in an Idaho Registered Apprenticeship program identified as female. Increasing the number of women in these programs provides a means of broadening the state’s labor force, where right now about two jobs are available for every individual looking for work.
To combat these challenges, experts on non-traditional apprenticeships, recruiting and retaining women in the trades advised apprenticeship sponsors to focus on three important subjects: awareness, mentoring and relationship building.
Recommendations include aligning an apprenticeship with the business’ schedule, providing skill-stacking credentials in apprenticeships, and, more importantly, partnering with on-the-job professionals.
Tutors and trade counselors should be made available to answer an apprentice’s questions and address their concerns. Mentors boost apprentice retention by helping on-the-job trainees navigate programs and stick with the job.
Relationship building with community service agencies also has a role in recruiting and retaining diverse apprentices. When businesses don’t have the ability to remove barriers to employment, such as a lack of child care or transportation services, they can turn to community partnerships for other solutions.
Shorter programs allow apprentices to learn the core of their material. Partnering with on-the-job training professionals helps level up the training.
Ultimately, the experts’ advice for employers comes down to one important point: Share your story. Trade success stories increase visibility, mentorship and relationship opportunities that support apprenticeships.
“I want to see people in my community, my state and the Pacific Northwest thrive,” Hamilton said.
People are more likely to believe they can succeed at something if they see others like them succeeding, said Megan Clark, director of strategic partnerships at ANEW, which was founded in 1980 to improve the access and advancement of women in non-traditional career pathways such as construction and manufacturing.
“If you can see it, you can be it."
In another effort to increase visibility of career paths, Apprenticeship Idaho released a children's book about apprenticeship as part of its K-12 initiative. Idaho's First Lady Teresa Little launched the book with a reading at Owyhee Elementary School in Nampa. Visit apprenticeshipidaho.gov to view the book, "Booper Dreams Big: An Almost True Story of Apprenticeship" and for details about apprenticeship programs and opportunities in Idaho.