Governor Steve Bullock today visited the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local Union #41 Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee to discuss how apprenticeship has continued safely during the pandemic and how it will be instrumental to the economy as the state recovers from impacts due to the virus.
“Apprenticeship played a key role in Montana’s workforce development over the years and contributed to the strong foundation we built during the last decade to weather economic impacts due to COVID-19. With shining examples of resiliency and flexibility from programs like the Butte Plumbers and Pipefitters, it is already clear apprenticeship will play an instrumental role in our recovery,” Governor Bullock said.
“Apprenticeship programs are designed to be customized and flexible to meet the needs of our economy. When the pandemic hit, we were able to transition to online instruction to ensure apprentices could continue with their program. Those changes ultimately made it easier for apprentices across the state to access our classes and removed barriers to participating such as travel times and finding childcare,” Quinton Queer, Training Director at the JATC said.
Apprenticeship and other workforce development programs have contributed significantly to Montana’s record economic expansion over the last decade. Apprenticeship programs provide college level instruction and allows apprentices to earn a paycheck while they are completing their hands-on training. Registered Apprenticeship Programs are available in over 1000 in-demand occupations including in fields such as healthcare and childcare that are critical as the state responds to COVID-19 and its impact on the economy.
Businesses also benefit from apprenticeship by having the ability to highly specialize the training employees receive and prepare apprentices to successfully transition to a permanent position after they complete their training. Governor Bullock secured a tax credit for employers that bring on a new apprentice of up to $750 for each new registered apprentice and a $1,500 tax credit a new apprentice who is a veteran.
There are currently 2,018 active apprentices in the program and 812 employer sponsors, and apprenticeship has remained steady and, in some areas, grown since the start of the pandemic. Since January, 437 new apprentices have enrolled, and 32 new sponsors came on board. Some occupations have seen growth, with 245 new construction apprentices enrolled since April, compared to 230 during the same time last year. Despite changes due to COVID-19, 177 apprentices have completed their training so far this year.
Due to the pandemic, the Plumbers and Pipefitters Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee have shifted the required classroom instruction to an online model. The shift has allowed apprentices to save time and travel expenses to complete their instruction at home, instead of traveling to Butte. Many apprentices have children and are single parents, and online instruction provides flexibility for childcare and limits time away from home. Additionally, the Butte JATC found online instruction attracted apprentices from more rural areas of the state who have a sponsor in their community but would otherwise struggle to spend extended time in Butte for classroom instruction. The shift has been so successful the Butte JATC plans to permanently provide online classroom instruction.
While the last six months have been challenging and the state has seen significant impacts to the economy, Montana’s strong foundation built over the last decade and proven programs such as apprenticeship will support the state’s recovery over the long term. Governor Bullock shared early data on the impacts of the virus in the 2020 Labor Day Report.
Over the last decade, Montana experienced the longest economic expansion in history and the economy added nearly 50,000 payroll jobs. The state’s economy became more diverse and robust, increasing real personal income, wages, and Montanans’ standard of living.
The pandemic induced recession appears to be short, according to economists. Employment levels have quickly rebounded, and Montana had the 16th smallest job loss among states. Jobs have been quick to return, with roughly 40,000 positions added in May and June, which marks the fastest two-month gain in Montana history. Additionally, Montana was one of the first states in the nation to reopen and maintain its healthy and safe workforce, which is essential to the state’s long-term potential for economic growth. Economists predict a stable recovery if Montana continues prioritizing the health and safety of workers and maintains efforts to minimize spread of the virus.
The 2020 Labor Day Report is available here: http://lmi.mt.gov/Portals/193/Publications/LMI-Pubs/Special%20Reports%20and%20Studies/LDR-2020-Accessible.pdf