Thousands of students and hundreds of employers in Montana received national honors recently at a White House summit on innovative workforce development and apprenticeship training. Montana was one of the 11 states invited to the event with President Donald Trump, who signed an executive order to increase federal grant funding available for apprenticeship programs.

The cornerstone of Montana’s workforce development success lies in the partnership between your Montana University System and your Montana Department of Labor and Industry. Through this innovative collaboration, Montana strategically deploys state and federal resources to target high demand occupations through work-based learning and industry alignment.

Montana is facing serious workforce challenges over the next 10 years. Our population is aging and estimates are that 24 percent of the 505,000 people employed are going to retire in the next ten years. This, coupled with our strong economy and low unemployment (3.8 percent), poses significant complications for industries to find the skilled labor. Montana’s health care industry alone is estimating a need for 1,100 positions to be filled each year over the next decade.

Your university system and department of labor and industry have worked together to develop new apprenticeship programs in health care, advanced manufacturing, information technology, accounting technology and culinary. These programs include college credit courses, work-based learning, prior learning assessment, embedded industry recognized credentials, and of course, a salary or “earn while you learn.” Montana’s success in this area is part of the reason President Trump signed Thursday’s executive order to reallocate more federal funding to apprenticeship activities.

New apprenticeships

Montana developed innovative approaches outside of traditionally recognized apprenticeship areas (plumbing, pipefitting, sheet metal, etc). Thanks to the employers who are providing the vital services to the people of Montana, we have worked to launch 20 new apprenticeship programs. These include 14 in health care fields such as certified nurse assistant, computerized tomography, emergency medical technician, paramedicine, pharmacy tech, medical coding and billing, and LPN. We have an additional 20 apprenticeship programs under development and expect to launch them in the autumn.

Montana’s rural and frontier communities have new apprenticeship opportunities in places such as Hamilton, Ronan, Crow Agency, Hardin, Malta, Ronan, Wolf Point, Miles City and Lewistown.

MSU Billings City College has partnered with a rural fire department employer in Miles City to develop the first paramedicine apprenticeship program in Montana. This innovative opportunity uses iPad robots (i.e. MedBots) to enable EMT professionals at the rural fire department to complete MSUB City College paramedic coursework and labs through real-time class discussions, small group breakouts and medical simulations with fellow students in the Billings-based classroom.

Wolf Point college

City College has also partnered with a rural medical clinic in Wolf Point to establish the first Licensed Practical Nurse apprenticeship program in Montana.

Job Service Missoula and Missoula College announced last week the launch of the state’s first accounting technology apprenticeship program.

Our workforce development efforts are data-informed. Your state labor department and university system, in partnership with Carroll and Rocky Mountain colleges, developed a State Workforce Talent Pipeline and Gap Analysis Report.

The MUS and DLI have been leveraging federal funds with state and private resources to create a new paradigm for workforce training. These efforts have involved public and tribal colleges across the state as well as partnerships with nearly 800 business and industry organizations and statewide associations such as the Montana Hospital Association.

Our successful partnerships and statewide collaborative efforts are captured the attention of the White House this past week.

John E. Cech, Ph.D., of Helena, is deputy Commissioner of Higher Education Academic & Student Affairs for the Montana University System. His email is jcech@montana.edu.

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