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Springfield employers invest in paid apprenticeship programs as labor shortage continues

Corey Binney, an electrical apprentice from the Kestrel Apprenticeship Training Center, checks the a breaker box at The Montclair on Wednesday, April 6, 2022.

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."


Corey Binney, an electrical apprentice from the Kestrel Apprenticeship Training Center, installs an outlet at The Montclair on Wednesday, April 6, 2022.

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.

CoxHealth benefits from partnership with Ozarks Technical Community College

Marcie Kirkup, manager of educational assistance programs at CoxHealth, said the ability to get a full education at no cost is what draws many to Cox's apprenticeships in Springfield.

Cox offers two apprenticeship programs for medical assistants and nursing assistants.

For reference, tuition for Missouri State's bachelor of science in health services degree is about $3,500 a semester. For a traditional eight-semester plan, this is a total of $28,000, not including other expenses.

Kirkup said Cox partnered with OTC about three years ago to establish the two programs that last 16 weeks. Different from traditional school semesters, Cox apprenticeships do not necessarily start in August and January. For example, Cox's ninth cohort of medical assistant apprentices are beginning their semester at the end of April, but it will be ongoing for a full 16 weeks.

Both the medical and nursing assistant programs are taught between OTC and Cox. Students take seated classes at OTC, then come to Cox for shadowing and training. Kirkup said there are usually between 20-25 students in each cohort.

Darrien Gardner, now a certified clinical medial assistant at Cox, was an apprentice in the medical assistant program's second cohort. She started the program in 2019 and graduated in March 2020.

Similar to Binney, Gardner also spent about 10 years in the restaurant industry. She said that in high school she had an interest for the medical field but serving brought in good money.


CoxHealth Certified Clinical Medical Assistant Darrien Gardner enters patient information into a computer at the Cox Medical Center in Branson Thursday, April 7.

"Whenever the program came up, I was married, had a son and I wanted something more than (serving tables)," Gardner said. "It gave me the ability to take the lead with it and not be drowning in student debt, because that was one of my biggest concerns."

In addition to being paid a full salary, apprentices like Gardner gain access to company perks as soon as they start their educational programs.

"If they're full-time employees, they have access to full-time benefits, so they can start those on day one, instead of a more traditional model where you go to school for two or four years, graduate and then you get all of the benefits," Kirkup said. "They're actually our employee from the day that they start their apprenticeship."

Upon graduating, apprentices are usually offered a full-time position or are asked to apply for one at the business or company that hosted their program. This is the case for both Falcon and Cox.

Before completing their program, Gardner's cohort attended a job fair hosted by Cox, where apprentices were able to meet staff from different clinics in the area. Gardner, who received three job offers from the fair, said the difficultly wasn't finding a job but choosing which one to take.

"As long as (apprentices) are willing to work for us as a medical assistant (or nursing assistant) for a period of time, we will help them," Kirkup said. "We'll invest in them, we will train them and then hopefully enjoy a relationship for awhile with them as an employee. We also can send them further on their path in their nursing careers or other careers with us."

Today, Gardner works in Cox's float pool, floating between clinics in Springfield, Branson and Harrison, Arkansas.

"I never really saw myself having a career," Gardner said. "I just always thought I'd be at the restaurant, so now I have something that I can be proud of. It was an amazing opportunity that changed my life for the better."

Springfield, MO looks to expand apprenticeship resources

In late-March, Springfield's Department of Workforce Development received approval from City Council to apply for two four-year grants through the U.S. Department of Labor's Apprenticeship Building America Grant Program.

One grant is $3 million to be used for pre-apprenticeships, which last a few weeks, compared to a registered apprenticeship that is more long term.

Katherine Trombetta, communications coordinator for the Department of Workforce Development, said this grant would specifically be used for promoting pre-apprenticeships, spreading awareness that apprenticeships are available for anyone.

Katherine Trombetta

The second grant is $6 million for an apprenticeship hub in Springfield.

"(The Department of Workforce Development) would basically be like a connector of resources available to help local counties and municipalities create their own apprenticeship programs," Trombetta said. "This is more of a train the trainer kind of concept. It develops an ecosystem where we can supply them with resources and providers in many different areas so that apprenticeships are successful."

Trombetta said this hub would be both physical and virtual in nature, with physical trainers helping establish apprenticeships and resources available online.

If approved, grant money will be distributed in early July.

A variety of other apprenticeships are offered in Springfield, ranging from cabinet maker to custodian. A full list of open apprenticeships can be found at