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Missouri Aims To Lead The Way In Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are normally associated with traditional skilled trades like electricians. The State of Missouri is trying to change that.
Flickr | Electrician_19 IFA teched

Missouri ranks second nationally for completed apprenticeships. Officials say it’s a sign that efforts to improve apprenticeships in the state are paying off.

Mardy Leathers, director of the Office of Workforce Development, said leaders in the state met roughly four years ago to determine how to improve programs and increase opportunities, especially in nontraditional apprenticeship careers fields like health care and finance. 

“The idea is as we continue to see growth in our labor-management organizations and our skilled trades, we're also now seeing growth in these other sectors,” he said. “I think that's what's led Missouri to be successful.”

Earlier this month, Gov. Mike Parson signed an executive order establishing the Office of Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning. It will be a part of the recently combined Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development.

The goal of the office is to significantly increase the number of people taking part in apprenticeships.

“Creating the Office of Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning will give us the foundation to take these programs to the next level,” said Commissioner of Higher Education Zora Mulligan in a statement. “We look forward to engaging business and industry stakeholders, higher education institutions, and other partners to continue building Registered Apprenticeship programs to help train Missouri’s workforce.”

The state has worked to get more businesses involved in apprenticeship programs in recent years. More than 3,600 employers in the state are taking part in formal training initiatives.

“If you don't have an employer and there's not a job offer, there is not an apprentice, because all apprentices are employed,” Leathers said. “So that's extremely critical.”

Helping current workers

Beyond training newcomers to the workforce, more apprenticeships are becoming a pathway allowing current workers to get a new set of skills.

That is the case at Permian Plastics in O’Fallon, Missouri. It has partnered with St. Charles County for what the company calls upskilling — selecting existing employees for an apprenticeship program.

“They are getting additional skills way above and beyond the job functions that they had,” said Ben Abbott, president of Permian Plastics.

“Our employees will end up with a transferable Department of Labor-issued apprentice certificate that they could take somewhere else. Hopefully, they will stay here.”

The company is strongly considering continuing the apprenticeship program, but that will depend on whether there is enough time to devote to the candidates, Abbott said.

Permian Plastics is a plastic injection mold company that employers approximately 80 depending on the time of year.
Credit Permian Plastics
Permian Plastics is a plastic injection mold company that employs approximately 80 depending on the time of year.

Even if it doesn’t follow through, the upscaling concept of apprenticeships is taking hold throughout Missouri.

“We have a lot of people in the workforce who need to be skilled up,” Leathers said.

He added that is a win-win. It gives incumbent workers the needed skills to be part of a modern workforce, while providing companies with a chance to train and retain talent.

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Wayne Pratt is the Broadcast Operations Manager and former morning newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.