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Employers Invest in Paid Apprenticeship Programs

Corey Binney spent 10 years in the restaurant industry before hanging up his apron to pursue a career doing electrical work.

Today, Binney, 33, is an apprentice at Kestrel Apprenticeship Training Center, an apprenticeship school at Falcon Electric, a local electrical contracting company.

Binney grew up in restaurants; his grandparents own George’s Family Restaurant on Glenstone Avenue. For the last 10 years, Binney was a manager at Jimm’s Steakhouse & Pub, and he has a degree from Ozarks Technical Community College in hospitality management and culinary arts.

Out of necessity, Binney tackled a few small construction projects while working at Jimm’s. He had a knack for the work and eventually decided to pursue the building trades.

Binney is far from the only person to pursue a new occupation over the last two years. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, 20 percent of workers quit their jobs to pursue new ones, according to USA Today and about 25 percent of hospitality workers said they wouldn’t return to the industry again.

In addition to career changes, many people have begun working from home or quitting their jobs altogether. USA Today reported that 13 percent of workers left their jobs because they didn’t provide a good work-life balance. These ongoing changes are affecting the job market and fueling a labor shortage.

Those on the other side of the table, looking to hire folks, are hoping the introduction of paid apprenticeship programs will entice individuals to join their team.

Ben Bills, owner of Falcon Electric, kick-started Kestrel Apprenticeship Training Center’s first semester in January for this reason.

The four-year program, accredited by the National Center for Construction Education and Research, allows students to work 40-hour weeks while taking evening classes. Students get hands-on training at job sites, learn from industry professionals and by the end of the program, should be ready for Springfield’s Journeyman Electrical license exam, which is required by the city for those working in building trades.

In addition, students who complete the program will receive certificates of completion from Kestrel, the NCCER and U.S. Department of Labor.

Bills has worked in the electrical industry for 42 years and said he’s experienced a drought of workers since the start of the pandemic.

“There’s a terrible shortage,” Bills said. “I could use six more electricians right now and there’s no one out there to hire. Other people are having the same problems with all the skilled trades.”

Bills said for Falcon to be sustainable, an educational environment for his workers is necessary.

“I’m a gardener. I’m used to growing things, and I think that we have to grow our own,” Bills said. “I can’t depend on just finding random people out there. They’re not out there. And I want (my workers) to be really good electricians. I want Falcon to have the best electricians. I want to raise them, grow them, teach them.”

For its first semester, Kestrel was only available to Falcon employees. Students interested in the program applied, and were given a job and acceptance into the school simultaneously. However, Bills said he sees a potential future where the school will be open to other students. But right now he wants to focus on growing his team.

Binney is one of 18 students enrolled in Kestrel this semester. Similar to a university or community college, Kestrel operates on two 16-week semesters each year.

Though he graduated from a community college, Binney said he enjoys the pace of his apprenticeship.

“The opportunity to get a formal education and to be given responsibilities sooner rather than later is important to me,” Binney said.

The combination of education and hands-on experience is a selling point for many apprenticeships, but so is the cost of tuition: $0.

Registered apprenticeships are paid by employers, in most cases. Apprentices like Binney work full-time, earning a salary, and often benefits, while attending classes.


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