Troy Butler, a field service leader with Idaho Power, directly attributes his career success to the five-year apprenticeship program he completed with Idaho Power.
“If I didn’t have the apprenticeship, I wouldn’t have become a lineman, and if I didn’t become a lineman there is no way I would have been able to become a foreman to run my own crew,” he said. “Gaining that leadership experience running my own crew gave me the tools to take over and move up to this middle management job.”
Businesses throughout Idaho, the United States and around the world are utilizing the “earn and learn” approach of apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeships combine work-based learning with related classroom instruction and are supervised by industry specialists.
The average apprenticeship program can last anywhere between two and five years. During these years the apprentice not only gains skills and experience to be successful in their chosen career, they also gain a paycheck.
“Participants have the opportunity to get paid while learning the skills,” said John Russ regional manager with the Idaho Department of Labor.
While apprenticeships began mainly in construction and skilled-trade industries, they are now becoming popular in a variety of occupations. Today, approximately 375,000 apprentices are working with more than 150,000 employers in the United States.
Approximately 950 Idahoans are currently involved in apprenticeship programs, acquiring job skills in industries such as advanced manufacturing, construction, energy and health care. More than 350 new apprentices are registered in Idaho
Benefits of Apprenticeships
Successful apprenticeships can diversify the workforce, improve productivity and profitability and offer benefits to both businesses and individuals.
“Apprenticeships give individuals the opportunity to get real world, hands-on experience,” Russ said. “Employers have the opportunity to train people the way they want them trained and influence their skills training and proficiency.”
For Idaho Power, apprenticeships aren’t only about training craft employees and keeping costs low. According to Caroline McNeely, manager of development and performance improvement with Idaho Power, apprenticeships allow the company to bring in young or inexperienced workers and teach them about the company culture.
“We’ve got our particular core values that we want to instill in our employees: integrity, respect and then safety,” McNeely said. “It is very important they have a focus on safety. Being able to instill that and train people how to do the work in a way that meets our standards around safety is very important.”
Aside from occupational skills, apprentices have the opportunity to learn soft skills such as problem solving and communication as well as how to work with a supervisor and diverse coworkers.
“I think there are a lot of benefits from learning on the job that you wouldn’t otherwise get in a traditional classroom setting,” McNeely said.
Apprenticeships also strengthen the community by decreasing unemployment, increasing productivity and improving the transition from school to career, according to McNeely.
“Apprenticeships offer an alternative to that academic-only college experience,” she said. “With all the variations and interests and capabilities of our workforce, there needs to be an alternative; so it’s a win win really.”
Apprenticeship Spotlight: Idaho Power
Idaho Power began its apprenticeship program in the early 1990s. The company now has eight different registered apprenticeship programs, with plans on possible expansion.
Their largest program, the lineman apprenticeship, is currently training 44 individuals. This goal oriented, highly structured program includes training and testing every six months.
Butler completed the lineman apprenticeship in July of 2002. During his time as an apprentice, he was able to learn every aspect about Idaho Power, which helped lead him to his current management position.
According to Butler, the program’s regimented structure helps to weed out those individuals who aren’t dedicated employees.
“It really gets you high quality individuals and gets you excellent training,” he said.
Apprentices automatically roll into a journeyman position with Idaho Power after successfully completing the apprenticeship program. Additionally, they receive a certification that allows them to work throughout the United States.
“With that certificate I can go be a journeyman anywhere in the country,” Butler said. “The opportunities are boundless.”
To date, 611 individuals have successfully completed an apprenticeship with Idaho Power. Of these individuals, 374 are currently employed by Idaho Power.
Apprenticeship Spotlight: CWI
College of Western Idaho, the West Ada School District and the Masonry Apprenticeship Council of Southwestern Idaho have developed a masonry apprenticeship program with the help of a $25,000 micro-grant from the Idaho Department of Labor.
This apprenticeship opened up opportunities for 56 students who are pre-registered in a masonry program for the 2015-16 school year. Additionally, CWI offers an adult class one night per week with a teacher visiting the student’s job site twice a year to observe and assess student skills in each student’s work environment.
Starting jobs the masonry graduates are expected to fill pay $12 – $14 an hour, with an anticipated wage gain of $6 – $8 an hour more for masonry workers who are already employed.
Apprenticeship Spotlight: Idaho Forest Group
The Idaho Forest Group, who offers apprenticeships in log scaling, electrical, millwright and information technology, has been running successful apprenticeship programs for more than 10 years. The company currently employs 22 apprentices, with plans to increase by four to eight within the month. The company is currently expanding offerings and developing apprenticeship training programs for saw filing and boiler/kiln operation.
In cooperation with the Idaho Department of Labor, the Idaho Forest group employs veterans who can use their GI Bill for training and apprenticeship programs. The company also hires apprentices through the Department of Labor’s WIOA program.
According to Beti Becker, VP of Human Resources with Idaho Forest Group, the benefits of apprenticeship programs are numerous.
Apprenticeships allow incumbents and new employees to gain career and life skills while accessing training opportunities that may not otherwise be available to them.
“Colleges, universities and trades schools do not have the funds to install manufacturing equipment for use in training,” Becker said. “Apprenticeships provide the opportunity for training institutions to teach course work at the same time employers provide invaluable on-the-job training.”
Apprenticeships help businesses fill many technical positions for which there is little outside industry training.
For rural communities, like many in Idaho, apprenticeships offer opportunities to those who may have limited access to other programs.
“We have had many years of success offering apprenticeships to employees for career advancement and monetary gain,” Becker said. “We are proud of our apprentice employees and trainers, and our employees are equally proud of their accomplishments.”
Employers or individuals interested in more information on apprenticeship programs can find information through the Idaho Department of Labor’s website.
–Tabitha Bower, firstname.lastname@example.org