BURLEY — New apprenticeship programs are being developed in Mini-Cassia that will allow students to test drive a career, learn skill sets for specific jobs and provide companies with future employees.

The School to Registered Apprenticeship Program, which launches mid-November, will allow students to work paid summer jobs with the companies. Upon completion students will earn a federal certification.

The Idaho Department of Labor, College of Southern Idaho, Cassia County School District, Minidoka County School District and industry sponsors Fabri-Kal, High Desert Milk and McCain Foods collaborated to develop the two-year class for high school students.

“This is really exciting because it is industry-driven and it’s the first time the two school districts have worked together on a project like this,” said Karla Robinson, the controller at High Desert Milk, which is paying the first-year teacher’s salary.

The three companies helped develop the class curriculum based on industry needs.

The machine operator class is open to high school juniors and seniors in both school districts and will be held at Mount Harrison Junior/Senior High School before school. The central location was chosen because the companies said the districts needed to work together, said Debbie Critchfield, the spokeswoman for Cassia County School District.

The class is operating as a pilot program in Cassia County. If it works well, the program will be expanded to include the high schools in the outlying communities, said Curtis Richins, director at Cassia Regional Technical Center.

Students are responsible for transportation to the class and sign a performance contract with the company that includes being on time.

“It’s treated just like a job,” Richins said, “and the students have to apply for the position.”

Students are also guaranteed pay raises as they reach company-established benchmarks. The machine operator class includes 144 classroom hours and 2,000 training hours on the job with one of the three sponsoring companies.

While they’re on the job, the students get paid between $10 and $12 an hour.

“I think all manufacturers are feeling the squeeze of the low unemployment rate in the area,” Robinson said. “We need to get the word out that there are some really good jobs here.”

The program’s leaders also hope to shift a narrative that paints manufacturing as low-skill or low-wage work. In fact, they said, many manufacturing jobs are high tech, and companies need skilled employees.

“After 30 days on the job a new employee here is still not trained,” Robinson said.

The program has been in the works for two years. It had to be approved by the U.S. Department of Labor because there are rules regarding minors working in heavy industry. Similar programs have been successful in Northern Idaho, but this is the first time it’s being attempted in the Magic Valley.

Minico High School launched an industrial maintenance training program last year, but it is yet to meet the approval of the U.S. Department of Labor, said Chet Jeppesen, a workforce consultant with the state’s labor department.

The program’s second year will also begin mid-November.

A third program, diesel technology, is still under development, with a planned start in January.

Justin Tate, a diesel technology teacher at Minico High School, said the first year of the industrial maintenance program, which is held at Minico High School, was very successful.

Twenty students signed up for the class and 16 completed the first year.

“Every student had employment that wanted it over the summer,” he said, and the pay range was $12 to $14 per hour. “It was not entry-level pay.”

Now, the two-semester course counts as a one-credit elective at the high school level, but they are working to get it approved for CSI credit.

Chad Evans is a heavy duty diesel technology instructor at CRTC. He said diesel techs are in great demand across the Magic Valley in many sectors.

“Just look around at our ag base,” he said.

Evans used to work for a Kenworth dealership in Mini-Cassia and said hiring employees that want to stay in the area was always challenging.

“Every shop wants the superstar to come right to work for them,” Evans said. “But those people already have good jobs with companies who are willing to pay to keep them.”

The new diesel tech apprenticeship program will allow students to make $14 to $16 per hour out of high school and $20 to $22 per an hour a few years after, Evans said.

“I think the program will be pretty cool,” said Quintin Ward, a CRTC diesel tech student. “This will allow us to get experience and good pay and be a step ahead of everybody else.”

Ward has already invested about $3,000 in tools in preparation for a career in diesel technology, and he plans to apply for the program.

Jeppesen, the state labor consultant, said the area’s youth tend to leave after high school.

“Forty percent are going to college, but where is the other 60 percent going?” he said. “Why not integrate that 60 percent into the workforce? These are good jobs here with good pay and benefits.”

The program can also give students a way to earn money through college.

Stotz Equipment, which sells and repairs John Deere equipment in Burley, is one of the sponsors of the diesel technology apprenticeship program.

Store manager Victor Caratachea has worked with companies in other states that had successful apprenticeship programs.

Now, he said, “It’s about growing our own.”

The program starts with holding career fairs so students can check out the kinds of jobs available in an industry, Caratachea said.

“In the old days you’d think of a mechanic as being dirty with a wrench in their hands, but in reality today they have a laptop in their hands,” he said. “Ninety percent of it is technology-based.”

The company also works to retain employees and has a generous college tuition program and tool allowance for employees who go to college, with a debt-forgiveness program if the employee stays three years.

“I don’t want any of my guys looking at their check and wondering how they will make it to the next one,” Caratachea said. “I want them to be happy and to think that it is a great place to work.” said Chet Jeppesen, a workforce consultant with the Idaho Department of Labor said.

“This is a first in the Magic Valley,” Jeppesen said.

High Desert Milk stepped up to pay the first-year teacher’s salary, Curtis Richins, director at Cassia Regional Technical Center said.

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