- Associated Press - Saturday, November 26, 2016

TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) - Idaho Power knows the benefits of training its own work force.

The company’s apprenticeship programs, implemented in 1954, have helped to address the need for skilled employees, decrease turnover and replace retired workers.

“We have over 90 percent completion rate among our programs, and over 600 graduates,” Idaho Power HR professional Shawna Potter said during a seminar on registered apprenticeships.

Annual turnover rates are less than 3 percent, as apprentices in the company’s eight programs see the value of the education Idaho Power provides, reported the Times-News (https://bit.ly/2gCDEX3).

“I learn better hands-on,” apprentice lineman Claysen Hale said. “You’re actually doing the work, so you know what works and what doesn’t.”

As the Idaho Department of Labor sees increasing demand for educated and experienced workers, a new federal grant will help expand and push for registered apprenticeships throughout the state.

“You can’t afford not to do it because the gap is going to continue to grow,” said John Russ, an area manager with the Idaho Department of Labor.

The $1.4 million federal grant will expand Idaho’s registered apprenticeships in health care, information technology, advanced manufacturing and energy.

There are nearly 1,000 registered apprentices in Idaho.

“We want to increase that by at least 20 percent by year’s end next year,” Russ said. “I think that is a very achievable goal.”

More than construction

About 80 percent of registered apprentices in Idaho are in construction-related trades.

“Right now there are about 400 registered apprenticeship programs in the state,” Russ said. “Most of those are in the traditional trades, but there are a few that are scattered in the IT, health care and childcare … apprenticeships aren’t just for the skilled trades.”

Idaho already received a $200,000 planning grant to develop its strategy earlier this year. Much of the $1.4 million grant will go to industry associations to help businesses in filling out the paperwork.

PTECH, TechHelp, the Idaho Hospital Association and the Idaho Technology Council will each receive $100,000, conducting statewide outreach and education about apprenticeships. They’ve committed to creating 25 apprenticeships each during the grant period.

Idaho Division of Career and Technical Education will use part of the grant money to do job tasks analyses with businesses, and create work-based learning and training opportunities.

The goal, Russ said, is to target IT and advanced manufacturing, where the biggest gaps in a skilled work force exist. In south-central Idaho, there is strong interest from companies, including McCain Foods, for apprenticeships in advanced manufacturing pertaining to food processing, Russ said.

U.S. Department of Labor State Director Bill Kober believes Idaho should have 5,000 apprentices instead of 1,000. He also wants to make apprenticeships earn college credit that is transferable to other states.

Registered apprenticeship: How it works

Unlike other apprenticeships, a registered apprenticeship earns the employee national certification, Idaho Power Field Services Leader Joe Kendall said.

Most of the five-man crews Idaho Power has in Twin Falls have two apprentices on them who work with journeymen who supervise them. There will be a continual need for apprentices in the electrical industry for some time, Kendall said.

Businesses that hire registered apprentices pay for on-the-job training developed by their industry. There are financial incentives to help offset the cost. As employees reach certain skill levels, they become eligible for pay increases. On average, the starting wage of an apprentice is 40-50 percent of a journey worker’s pay.

But another big part of a registered apprenticeship is education.

“We’re not saying the on-the-job training replaces the education,” Russ said. “The apprenticeship ties those two things together.”

Idaho Power’s lineman apprenticeship program, for example, takes four-and-a-half years for the apprentice to become a journeyman. Hale, who’s been apprenticing for more than two years, has to go to classroom training in Boise for a week every six months.

“There’s a lot of time invested in each apprentice,” Kendall said. “The company wants each of these guys to succeed.”

The majority of Idaho Power’s apprenticeships take four to four-and-a-half years to complete, Regional Operations Manager Angelique Pruitt said.

“Apprenticeship programs offer higher wages and more incentives than other employment in our state,” she said.

How to get started

During National Apprenticeship Week, Idaho Department of Labor hosted seminars across the state to explain the registered apprenticeships to interested businesses.

Matthew Wallace, general manager for NU-VU Glass in Twin Falls, attended the local seminar with an interest in developing a glazier apprenticeship program. His company would like to expand.

“The only thing holding us back is not having enough qualified installers,” Wallace said.

It’s a job that takes years to become efficient, and not many young people are interested, Operating Officer Heath Woodbury said.

Businesses interested in developing registered apprenticeships can connect with a local Idaho Department of Labor representative, determine an occupation and develop stands for an apprenticeship, Russ said.

“The true incentive is they have input on the training and have the opportunity to bring in a lower skilled individual and train them the way they want to be trained,” Russ said.

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Information from: The Times-News, https://www.magicvalley.com

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