Developing a Skilled Workforce Through Registered Apprenticeships

by Idaho Department of Labor Director Melinda S. Smyser

Not too long ago, St. Mary’s Hospital in Cottonwood found itself in need of a medical lab scientist. After searching eight months for a qualified applicant, hospital officials worked with their local Idaho Department of Labor office to develop a registered apprenticeship program. Today the program is working so well St. Mary’s plans to set up a second apprenticeship for the same skill set.

As I meet with Idaho employers, they tell me they all have one thing in common with St. Mary’s Hospital. They need a pipeline of skilled workers with industry-specific training and hands-on experience.

Registered apprenticeships are a proven strategy for successfully building that pipeline and benefits both businesses and job seekers. Most employers see reduced turnover costs, greater employee retention, increased productivity and an average of $1.05 returned for every dollar they invest in their employees.

Apprentices benefit by on-the-job training and earn while they learn, reducing student debt. They see increased opportunities for promotion and higher wages over the course of their careers. Nationally, nine out of 10 find themselves gainfully employed at an average starting salary of $60,000 per year, and over the course of their careers, earn $300,000 more than their non-apprenticed peers.

That’s why the Idaho Department of Labor, the Division of Career and Technical Education and the AFL-CIO are working with industry to increase registered apprenticeships throughout the state. With the help of a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, the Apprenticeship Idaho Team is engaging businesses, education and workforce training providers; increasing participation in apprenticeships by underserved populations and low-income workers; and expanding apprenticeships to new, non-traditional industry sectors.

Workforce training centers at North Idaho College, Lewis-Clark State College, College of Western Idaho, College of Southern Idaho, Idaho State University and the College of Eastern Idaho are each using $100,000 to develop customized training for local businesses.

Four more partners – PTECH, TechHelp, the Idaho Hospital Association and the Idaho Technology Council – are working to create 25 new apprenticeships each by setting up nontraditional apprenticeships in health care, information technology, advanced manufacturing, transportation and energy.

 Today, more than 400 Idaho employers have helped double the number of registered apprenticeship programs since last year, while the number of registered apprentices has grown more than 42 percent.

Mini-Cassia’s School-to-Registered-Apprenticeship program is a prime example in action. In collaboration with Cassia County and Minidoka County School Districts, the College of Southern Idaho and industry sponsors Fabri-Kal, High Desert Milk and McCain Foods, high school students will earn anywhere from $10 – $14 per hour while receiving credit toward earning their high school diploma. These students are also learning how manufacturing jobs have evolved and are no longer low-skill, low-wage jobs. Both groups appreciate the program because local area youth can stay in the area and find good jobs with benefits.

Clearly, apprenticeships are good for every aspect of Idaho’s economy.


Melinda S. Smyser is the director of the Idaho Department of Labor. To learn more about services available to help foster apprenticeships in Idaho, visit Interested businesses can contact John Russ at (208) 364-7785 ext. 3303 or at