New apprenticeship funding focuses on easing nurse and teacher shortage

A special education teacher in the classroom. (Photo courtesy University of Washington College of Education)

Apprenticeship programs for nurses and special education teachers in Washington are getting a $5.6 million boost through a local partnership that won a federal Department of Labor grant.

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) sent out a summary of the partnership in a news release Thursday.

L&I and Washington Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA), together with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and Washington Education Association (WEA), will invest the funds in training for two industries facing consistent and significant staffing shortages, the announcement said.

“Our Career Connect and apprenticeship efforts are all about connecting students and workers to the many incredible career opportunities in high-demand fields, including education and health care,” said Gov. Jay Inslee. “The collaboration among state agencies and union partners is paying off and we appreciate the support of the federal Department of Labor.”

“Training more teachers and nurses will ease the pressure on workers who are doing their best to meet demands well beyond their capacity,” said Joel Sacks, L&I director. “Along with that, this funding will provide pathways for people in our state into these rewarding careers, particularly to underserved populations.”

Special education teachers
Under the grant, apprenticeship programs for special education teachers will focus on providing training in the Walla Walla, Federal Way, and Mukilteo school districts. Because it requires participants have a bachelor’s degree, rather than a master’s degree, the grant will open the possibility of a career in teaching to a new universe of potential educators.

It’s also a first-of-its-kind partnership between L&I, the OSPI and the WEA.

“Across the nation, schools continue to experience shortages in educators trained to support students with disabilities, and Washington state is no exception,” said State Superintendent Chris Reykdal. “Preparing future educators by empowering them to spend more time with mentor teachers and students prior to earning their certification is the power of apprenticeship, and I am so excited we are bringing it to Washington. We are grateful for our partnership with L&I, WDVA, and WEA.”

Licensed practical nurses
L&I and the WDVA will use another part of the grant to fund on-the-job training through apprenticeship for licensed practical nurses (LPN) in long-term care facilities serving veterans including the Washington Soldiers Home, Washington Veterans Home, Spokane Veterans Home and Walla Walla Veterans Home.

The program will focus on nursing assistants and nursing technicians who are completing LPN coursework.

“The Washington Department of Veterans Affairs is uniquely positioned to expand registered apprenticeship opportunities in Washington state and support our staff as they begin their nursing career serving those who served,” said WDVA Director David Puente. “By creating a career pathway from nursing assisting to licensed practical nurse, we are removing barriers for candidates wanting to enter nursing and providing supported employment while they train.”

Expanding participation and investment
A third part of the grant involves providing support services to pre-apprenticeship program participants. That work could include outreach to underrepresented communities including women, people of color and veterans as a way to expand participation in a variety of occupations

L&I said it is focused on increasing participation in registered apprenticeships. That includes $8 million invested in expanding existing programs in 2022 and $15 million for apprenticeship in aerospace engineering in 2021. There are about 190 registered apprenticeship programs in the state. There are more than 22,000 people participating in apprenticeship programs, which cover some 200 different occupations.

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