Just as there is an identified skills gap across America, workforce development has been identified by community leaders as a key component to economic development at the Lake of the Ozarks.

 Just as there is an identified skills gap across America, workforce development has been identified by community leaders as a key component to economic development at the Lake of the Ozarks.

In the last couple of years, the Lake of the Ozarks Regional Economic Development Council (LOREDC) has been working more closely with local schools to begin closing the skills gap in the tri-county region. With support from LOREDC and local businesses and groups, Camdenton and Eldon technical schools were able to get a grant from US Department of Labor and Missouri Department of Economic Development to launch a registered apprenticeship program, following in the footsteps of School of the Osage which started this program last year.

Registered apprenticeship is a flexible “earn while you learn” training model supported by the MDED’s Division of Workforce Development through the US Department of Labor. The MDED describes the program as a combination of employer-driven job-related instruction with extensive on-the-job learning under the supervision of a trade professional.

The grant application focused on construction, information technology and transportation, meaning anything related to marine and automotive repair, collision repair and advanced manufacturing such as metal fabrication and machining, according to Lake Career & Technical Center Director Jacqueline Jenkins. She worked with Kelli Engelbrecht of the Eldon Career Center to obtain the grant which will cover the cost of one program coordinator who will work with students, the technical schools and the business community.

“These are manual labor positions, but they are very wage-sustaining positions,” says Lake Career & Technical Center Director Jacqueline Jenkins. “I always tell individuals who talk about STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math], ‘I love STEM, but you know, if I hear a clank in my car, I’m not going to an engineer. I’m going to my auto tech. And you can make darn good money doing that. I love career tech education because I see what it does for kids.”

Jenkins cites a former student making $34 per hour in what would be considered a trade.

“There’s almost a stigma with a trade program now that there’s no money. No, you can make money. It’s just physical labor in some cases,” she says.

Besides automotive technicians, building trades is another segment of industry seeing a growing skills gap in America and locally, says Jenkins. In the Lake area, marine repair technicians are another area of need, and some of the local marine dealers have been very supportive of getting the program going, says Jenkins. In fact, she attributes G and G Marina with helping get the program off the ground.

The grant funds run from March 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019. In recent weeks, the two districts were working together to hire the right person to get the program established. They’re hopeful that the grant will be available again in 2019 as the program will still be in its infancy at the end of the current period, says Jenkins.

With vocational learning facilities serving their district as well as nearby districts, the Camdenton and Eldon facilities have the potential to reach a wide segment of the future workforce in the Lake area, benefiting current and future employers and employees.

The registered apprenticeship program helps introduce students to skills that are in demand. It is different from an internship, according to Jenkins, in that students must do significant work in their field of study.

The program requires a minimum number of hours of classroom and lab instruction as well as on the job site.

“It offers a lot of flexibility,” says Jenkins. “It truly is employers sitting with the school and agreeing, you teach this, you teach this. It’s just a win-win. It truly is. An employer helps build their own workforce. They need skilled labor so they can bring someone in that they can train for their way, train their processes.”

In addition to helping ensure students receive a good beginning in technical training in specific areas of commercial need, the registered apprenticeship program also help introduce students to what are called “soft skills.” Mentors and managers in the field can help teach kids about the importance of attendance, problem-solving and customer service.

According to the MDED, Missouri currently has more than 400 registered apprenticeship programs with 13,000 active apprentices and hundreds of participating employers.