Iowa Ideas
Iowa Ideas

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Iowans' Ideas: A renewed interest in apprenticeships

May 5, 2019 at 7:00 am
    Kathy Anderson

    Iowa’s workforce shortage is well-documented as one of the state’s biggest challenges. While there are many effective initiatives, including Iowa’s STEM Initiative, Future Ready Iowa, Elevate Advanced Manufacturing, Home Base Iowa and more, this issue will require all that and more to solve.

    What is newer, however, is turning to an age-old practice — apprenticeships — as part of the solution to this shortage of skilled labor.

    Apprenticeships have been an effective workforce training solution for centuries. At its core, apprenticeship programs combine formal classroom training, reinforcement through practical hands-on training and mentoring through the development of job skills.

    What most people don’t realize, however, is how flexible apprenticeships are becoming. Formal training options range from community college programs to instruction from private training companies to a company’s proprietary training program. And some companies use a combination of all three.

    The newest element within apprenticeships is the variety of industries that use it. Apprenticeships have grown from the secret sauce of the trade-industry to now include advanced manufacturing, health care, energy, transportation, value-added agriculture, technology and even winemaking.

    According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. utility industry will turn over more than 50 percent of its workers in the next five to 10 years, so workforce development is a top priority. MidAmerican Energy, a member of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, partners with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Locals 109 and 499 and area community colleges to provide a reality-based curriculum for apprentice line mechanics to acquire the skills they need, meet customer demands and keep safety as the top priority.

    After students complete one year of pre-apprentice program or line school, a two-year apprenticeship program includes a mix of classroom instruction, lab work and field experience.

    To facilitate best-in-class results, MidAmerican Energy also has invested in state-of-the-art line mechanic training facilities. These include classrooms and a replica of MidAmerican Energy’s electric infrastructure — a model neighborhood with a variety of characteristics employees will encounter on the job, live wires, transformers and more.

    Iowa ABI member Henderson Products, based in Manchester, is one of three companies working with West Delaware High School students on welding apprenticeships. The apprenticeship gives local students the opportunity to learn a skilled trade and local employers the opportunity to recruit local, skilled laborers to high-need and hard-to-fill positions in area factories.

    Apprentice students still attend their regular classes at West Delaware, but they also work about 15 hours a week as welders.

    The program will give high school students 450 hours of formal training while in high school and close to 2,000 hours of additional experience at the company level.

    Once completed, students will have graduated high school, earned a certificate with Northeast Iowa Community College and have a full-time job within a growing Iowa company.

    Because apprenticeships are proving to be so effective, Iowa is taking a more aggressive approach to encourage companies to use them. Here are some helpful resources for potential apprentices and employers interested in the benefits of apprenticeship for their own workforce recruitment and retention strategies.

    State Funding

    The Iowa Economic Development Authority now offers funding to Registered Apprenticeship programs certified by the Department of Labor. The Iowa Apprenticeship Act offers $3 million annually in grants to eligible existing Registered Apprenticeship programs to encourage and increase the use of their apprenticeship programs.

    The Apprenticeship Development Fund offers up to $1 million in competitive grants to program sponsors or employers to offset the upfront costs of implementing an apprenticeship program for in-demand jobs. For more information on State of Iowa 15B and 15C programs or funding guidelines, contact Jill Lippincott with the IEDA at

    Valuable Resources offers resources to help future apprentices find a career that’s a perfect fit and earn money while they learn, and help employers get the support they need to train quality workers.

    Federal Funding and Assistance

    There are additional helpful resources at Iowa Workforce Development through federal funding to strengthen and grow Registered Apprenticeship opportunities in Iowa. This federal grant is separate from state of Iowa funding for Registered Apprenticeship Programs.

    It’s focused on expanding opportunities in health care and advanced manufacturing — the fastest growing and largest employment sectors in the state. It also emphasizes increasing the participation of women, youth, minorities, veterans and people with disabilities.

    Amy Beller, registered apprenticeship program coordinator at Iowa Workforce Development, is available to provide technical and recruitment assistance with these programs at

    Greer Sisson, the state director of the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, Office of Apprenticeship, can be reached at for help to register your company’s existing Apprenticeship program.

    • Kathy Anderson is vice president for member development and programs at the Iowa Association of Business and Industry. Her column appeared in the May 5, 2019, issue of The Gazette’s Iowa Ideas magazine.

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