By: Galen Hollenbaugh, Comissioner of the Montana Department of Labor & Industry
Montana’s economy continues to experience growth, adding jobs and wealth for both businesses and workers. We have diverse industries that allow us to withstand changes in the economy, a culture that fosters entrepreneurship, and a commitment to ensuring our workforce is skilled and qualified to fill in-demand jobs.
Low unemployment, pending retirements, and our strong economy have combined to create a tight labor market in Montana. To address this challenge, and ensure our continued economic growth, we will need to have every able Montanan working at their full potential. Maintaining, educating and training our workforce must be a top priority for individuals, business and government.
As organizations look to recruit and retain their staff, both business and government have invested in effective solutions. We have partnered with industry to identify and advance both new and innovative methods to grow and keep workers, such as work-based learning and incumbent worker training, as well as time-honored practices, such as apprenticeships.
The Montana Registered Apprenticeship Program is an industry-driven solution that addresses this workforce shortage and benefits both employers and employees. Employees have the option to “earn while you learn,” collecting a paycheck while they train for an in-demand career. Participants also finish their program with an industry- recognized credential, giving them a key certification that verifies their skills as they grow their career.
Employers also benefit from this program. Apprentices can be trained to meet your specific business needs. Additionally, retention rates for apprentices are high, with over 90 percent of those who completed a registered apprenticeship in the past 5 years are still working in Montana. This loyalty saves employers from incurring additional recruitment and training expenses.
Apprenticeship is thriving. In Montana, we currently have over 1,800 Registered Apprentices in training. 580 of those were new to the program in 2018. The number of apprentices increased by 30 percent in the past 5 years. The demographic make-up of our apprentices is also changing. Women currently comprise 18 percent of our new apprentices. Five years ago, only 3 percent of our
apprentices were women.
As the opportunities in our economy evolve, so do the occupational areas and industries where we see apprenticeships. Although a majority are in the traditional trade fields, expansion into new fields has been dramatic. In healthcare, apprenticeships have increased by 153 percent, with 253 apprentices and 53 unique sponsors. This year we released our Labor Day Report at the Blackfoot River Brewing Company in Helena. Blackfoot started a Master Brewer apprenticeship. It’s a program we didn’t anticipate a need for 20 years ago, but now Montana has the 2nd most breweries per capita in the nation, and I predict that other breweries will follow their lead.
The apprenticeship program has also expanded into our rural and reservation settings. Through partnerships with our institutions of higher education, apprenticeships are developing across reservations. We have participants in programs as varied as nursing, hazardous materials management and accounting in reservation communities. The labor force in rural and reservation areas tend to be less mobile, and local employers and educators have shown innovation and flexibility in collaborating with MTDLI to advance programs that allow workers to develop skills and remain in their communities.
As part of Governor Bullock’s Quality Jobs legislative package, the Montana Legislature passed an apprenticeship tax credit. This benefit provides businesses with a $750 credit for each new apprentice they sponsor, and $1,500 if the apprentice is a veteran. We currently have about 440 apprentices whose employer may be eligible to receive this credit this year.
Montanans can look forward to future economic growth and prosperity. We have a strong, diversified and constantly changing economy. Our entrepreneurs and workers remain nimble enough to turn obstacles into opportunities to face future challenges. Continued partnerships between businesses, workers and workforce training organizations will ensure that Montana’s economic future continues to be bright. For more information on our programs, including registered apprenticeships, please visit MontanaWorks.gov.
Editor’s Note: Nov. 12-18 is National Apprenticeship Week. How are you celebrating this year?