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Level up: Idaho programs help skill up workers for new jobs

Parker Carey got a leg up into his first job with the help of the State of Idaho. 

Instead of flipping burgers or busing tables, Carey, 16, is learning the ins-and-outs of the meat cutting trade behind the counter at Idaho Meat and Seafood in Meridian. He earned his high school equivalency degree, learned the basics of food service at Life’s Kitchen last year and then with the help of the Department of Labor he landed at the butcher’s shop to build work experience. 

“It feels good,” he said, before clocking in for a shift. “I feel accomplished in my life, like I can actually do things with myself. It’s nice to be able to afford things I couldn’t afford, so I like that part of it too.”

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Carey is taking advantage of one of a raft of workforce training programs offered through the Idaho Department of Labor. His program, called WIOA for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, helps connect out of work or underemployed Idahoans with job training in high demand fields. Through the program, the federally-funded program covers nearly the entire cost of wages for an employee like Carey in exchange for a company training them. 

Dozens of programs

The aim of programs like this is to help workers “skill up” in fields the economy is short of workers and give them a leg up into a career where they can make a living wage. WIOA serves laid off workers looking to change careers, the unemployed, those struggling to find enough hours, people experiencing homelessness, formerly incarcerated workers and others. 

They have dozens of partnerships for workers to get training in a range of fields and eligibility requirements to fit workers in many different situations. Idaho DOL’s Deputy Director Kristyn Carr said they offer programs built to offer workers basic job experience who don’t have much employment history all the way to helping workers with complex certifications. 

She said if any Idahoan is interested but unsure they qualify, they should contact the Department of Labor to see if any of their programs will work for their needs. 

“We know what jobs are in demand and we can help someone to identify the skills they need so they have a bright future for work and the ability to stay employed in a high demand occupation,” Carr said. “For a business it’s a win because they need workers.”

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From summer 2018 through summer 2019, the WIOA program served just shy of 600 Idahoans over 18 and 627 under 24. Of those who started the program, 382 and 262 completed it. Employment rates for adults in the program neared 80% between 2017 and 2018 and 50% of participants earned a credential of some kind, according to data logged by the Idaho Department of Labor. 

Can’t find workers? Grow your own

When St. Luke’s struggled to find enough medical assistants to staff Idaho’s largest health system, it turned to the DOL. 

The hospital system launched a paid apprenticeship program three years ago in conjunction with the state to help train employees in their clinic and eventually become credentialed Medical Assistants. The nine month program trains assistants to assist in clinics with taking vital signs on patients, assisting with paper work, collecting medical history, dispensing medications and giving immunizations. 

It involves 36 hours a week working hands-on in a clinic and some textbook and online modules before they complete the program. This program pays workers slightly under $14 an hour while they are training, which allows interested workers to get their credential without having to take on debt or stop working in order to go to school. Once they pass the credentialing exam, they continue working at St. Luke’s as a medical assistant and get a bump in pay. 

St. Luke’s medical assistants participate in phlebotomy training prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Courtesy of St. Luke’s.

St. Luke’s Assistant Nurse Manager Laurel Hersel, who oversees the program, said it has made a difference in the lives of the trainees and the health system to help fill the jobs. 

“I’ve been in a few different nursing roles, but this is the first one like this and it’s been pretty amazing to see people come into our program who have minimal experience,” she said. “Some of them are fairly young and figuring out what they want to do and by the time they go through our program to see them at the end become these very valuable, competent, employees in our system who are moving up fairly quickly.”

If workers meet the income requirements with the state, the DOL pays half of their wages while they train at St. Luke’s. But, even if they don’t qualify, the health system still pays all of its trainees and they become employees of the hospital on day one. 

Enter COVID-19

The pandemic plunged the United States into a recession and disrupted workers in nearly every industry. This called for a new workforce training program. 

To help workers looking to pull themselves up into higher-paying jobs or change careers, the Idaho Workforce Development Council started the LAUNCH program in October 2020 with federal coronavirus relief funds. It helps pay for job training for any Idahoan who wants to work in the Gem state. If they’re impacted by COVID-19, 100% of their training is covered, but even if they weren’t the state can cover between 70 and 90% depending on their income. 

The state studies demand for skilled employees and demand from workers every month to add new training programs to the roster. So far, the most popular program has been CDL training and medical billing, but there is funding available for softer job skills. There’s also the possibility soon of full apprenticeships in HVAC, plumbing and electrical. 

“The returns are exponential,” Idaho Workforce Development Council’s Caty Solace said. “We see it across the board. As their salary goes up, you’re going to see increased tax revenue, increased spending in their communities. They may become able to purchase a home. You’re going to see that growth throughout the entire economic system.”

‘Like family’ 

Carey is nearing the end of his 500 hours WIOA is helping him cover at Idaho Meat And Seafood, but he might be staying. 

He’s connected with the shops owners, Ed and Andrea Garcia, and they say he’s been an immense help in growing their business. Andrea Garcia said Carey is “a great kid” and their families have gotten to know each other since he started work. Plus, having a reliable set of hands helps the family keep up with their workload. 

“For us it’s normally me, my husband and our son that run it so Parker has been amazing,” Andrea said. “Having an extra hands to help out here when we get really busy with some of our restaurant work, it’s changed a lot with how much we’re able to do and being able to get here a little bit more on time instead of being here until all hours of the night trying to get things caught up.”

Carey hopes to keep working with the Garcias until he plans to join the military when he’s old enough. He enjoys learning the work and following in the footsteps of some relatives on his grandfather’s side of the family who worked in meat cutting. 

“Without the Department of Labor I don’t think I could have landed a job this good,” Carey said. “How else would I have found this place specifically? The people here are good, I like talking to customers and I enjoy the work. You aren’t going to get that working at McDonalds.”

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Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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