Apprenticeship collaboration connects Idaho health clinics with talent

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI) – Idaho’s labor market has been tight since the pandemic, particularly for specialized industries like health care.

Health clinics already face a heavy administrative burden and managing and paying for training is a big obstacle that gets in the way of staffing and talent recruitment. The Idaho Community Health Centers Association is trying to solve this problem through apprenticeship training and funding coordination. 

“One of the biggest hurdles our community health centers have is bandwidth,” said Robin Donovan, program manager at ICHCA. “So, we thought: what if we could alleviate that burden for them?”

Idaho Community Health Centers Association is a nonprofit that provides training and technical assistance to the state’s 16 community health centers. They help ensure Idaho’s medical clinics have the staff and resources they need, but competing for labor in Idaho’s tight job market is a challenge for many organizations.

As of July 2022, there were more than 63,000 online job postings across industries in Idaho according to The Conference Board’s Help Wanted OnLine Index. Compared to the state’s unemployment rate of 2.4% at the time, this equaled 2.6 job openings for every unemployed Idahoan looking for work. As a result, businesses must compete for labor or begin their own training programs.

The solution? A collaboration with North Idaho College and the Idaho Department of Labor to increase awareness and accessibility of medical and dental assistant training. The programs are financed by federal Registered Apprenticeships funds from the U.S. Department of Labor.

ICHCA is sponsoring two Registered Apprenticeships, one for dental assistants and another for community health workers. These sponsorships allow the association to leverage powerful partner resources by relieving community health care clinics from the administrative burden that comes with managing apprenticeships.

Registered Apprenticeships are paid, on-the-job training programs with related technical instruction in which a worker trains with a mentor to learn specialized skills in a specific industry. Recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor, a Registered Apprenticeship includes guaranteed wage increases and a nationally recognized credential for apprentices who complete a program.

These and other reported benefits of a Registered Apprenticeship appeal to many entry level workers and the businesses that hire them, especially when the training is paid and comes free for the organizations involved.

“What’s exciting with these apprenticeships is the clinics aren’t paying out of pocket for the cost of tuition,” Donovan said. “Idaho Launch is available to help cover the costs.”

Idaho Launch is an Idaho Workforce Development Council program that provides financial assistance to individuals and employers for training programs designed to meet the state’s workforce needs. These funds make it possible for industry associations to pay for on-the-job apprentice training with the help of local community college curriculum. As a result, workers can explore career opportunities.

“The funding piece that supports our nonprofit clinics and helps cover the cost of tuition is huge,” said Donovan.

ICHCA has sponsored a Registered Apprenticeship for dental assistants and has already had one graduate. Six more are enrolled in the program.

Mariah Aripa was the first apprentice to graduate through the Registered Apprenticeship program sponsored by the association. She sought a way to elevate her career and serve her patients in her community, and the apprenticeship program offered exactly that.

“The program made it possible for me to earn and learn at the same time, as well as to start my career in the dental field,” says Aripa.

She got involved in the apprenticeship program and earned her apprenticeship certificate through her former employer, Marimn Health. The clinic in Plummer is owned and operated by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and provides services to patients on a sliding fee scale. Marimn Health is open to everyone as a federally qualified community health center.

Community health centers like this one are often in need of health care workers and dental assistants as demand for these positions continues to grow. The need for dental assistants is projected to expand by 27% in Idaho, with more than 700 new jobs available by 2030 – almost double the average for other occupations in the state.

Ultimately, Aripa hopes to move up the dental field ladder. Dentists represent another profession greatly needed in Idaho. At a projected growth rate of 21.9% in northern Idaho, where Aripa lives, demand for dentists will far outpace the 14.8% growth rate for other positions.

Donovan has also seen a need for medical professionals. “We could definitely use more dentists in this state,” she said. “We have a provider shortage in general across the state which is tremendous.”

For employers, apprenticeships serve as a talent pipeline that help fills labor gaps like these in Idaho’s workforce.

Ninety-three percent of apprentices remain employed after graduating from a Registered Apprenticeship program, according to Apprenticeship USA, and apprenticeship coordinators help employers access talent they might otherwise struggle to reach.

For the apprentices, the benefits can be even more fulfilling.

“The highlight of my apprenticeship experience was being able to help the patients with their needs, as well as receiving my certificate,” Aripa said.

More than 230 Idaho employers are currently recruiting and retaining talented employees by sponsoring Registered Apprenticeships. Funding assistance, training, recruitment planning, program coordination – all this and more are offered by the Idaho Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship Idaho program, whose mission is to expand the current pipeline of qualified workers for state businesses seeking a skilled labor force.

Apprenticeship Idaho is a coalition that is partnering with communities throughout the state to showcase apprenticeships serving Idaho’s businesses and its workers. This November will serve to highlight these powerful partnerships.

Gov. Brad little has proclaimed November 14-20 as National Apprenticeship Week in Idaho. This observance is a time for business, nonprofit, education and government leaders to come together in recognition of apprenticeship as a means of supporting Idaho’s labor force. But for graduates like Mariah Aripa, an apprenticeship has a special meaning.

“Do it!” Aripa said when asked for advice she would give others considering an apprenticeship. “It is a tough journey going to school as well as working a full-time job, but so worth it! I look back and I am glad I never gave up.”

For more information on apprenticeship, visit ApprenticeshipIdaho.gov.

For training and tuition funding assistance, visit IdahoLaunch.com.  

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