Apprenticeship programs are helping Nevadans launch their careers

The number of registered apprentices in Nevada has more than doubled over the past decade and a recent surge of funding from the Biden administration aims to keep that number growing and help more people start their careers. (Graphic by Desirée Tapia)

The number of registered apprentices in Nevada has more than doubled over the past decade and a recent surge of funding from the Biden administration aims to keep that number growing and help more people start their careers. (Graphic by Desirée Tapia)

By Mark Credico

June 10, 2024

The number of registered apprentices in Nevada has more than doubled over the past decade and a recent surge of funding from the Biden administration aims to keep that number growing and help more people start their careers.

It’s no secret that Nevada has a teacher shortage.

In Clark County, the school district has resorted to an ad campaign in neighboring states, trying to lure educators to come teach in the district.

But for those currently living in Clark County who might be interested in becoming an educator, but aren’t sure where to start, there’s another path: UNLV’s Nevada Forward Initiative.

The initiative provides workforce training and career readiness training for future educators by offering an accelerated master’s level teacher licensure program and another licensing program for current educational support staff who want to become teachers, according to UNLV.

Arianna Hicks is among the hundreds of aspiring educators who’ve gone through the program.

Hicks was familiar with public schools when she enrolled in the program. She’d previously worked as a school kitchen manager and participated in the Special Education Social/Emotional Teaching and Reinforcement (STAR) Program at Matt Kelly Elementary School.

But Hicks enjoyed working in the classroom so much that she decided to go back to school and get an education degree. Then she heard about the Nevada Forward Initiative.

Hicks said the program was “hard work, for sure,” and students should lean on their support systems like family, friends, coworkers, and other students to get through it.

“But the program in itself was very accommodating for us, we were able to work and still get paid,” Hicks said. “I mean, mostly student teachers, going through student teaching, you have to quit your job and just focus on that. But no, we were able to student teach and still get paid from our job.”

Hicks recently graduated from the program and will begin teaching 5th grade at Matt Kelly Elementary this fall.

Apprenticeship programs get federal investments

UNLV’s Nevada Forward Initiative is one of eight apprenticeship programs in the country for educating teachers, according to the university.

Kelsey Claus, associate director of communications and programming for the initiative, said the program is the largest of its kind in the country. There are currently over 500 registered apprentices in Nevada Forward Initiative, according to Claus, with hundreds more set to start in the coming months.

“I’m comfortable saying more than 300 people who are going to start in summer and fall,” Claus said.

The program is funded by state grants, including passthrough funds from the Covid-era Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund created by the federal government.

The initiative already spent $13 million and promises to work with its apprentices to reduce out-of-pocket costs for their education.

“I think this program really leverages people’s experience of being working professionals in whatever capacity,” Claus said. “So the people who are coming to our programs, especially the bachelor’s degree program, are already working in the districts, they’re already serving in schools, they’re already working with students.”

The program is now applying for federal funding after being federally recognized in recent years.

They hope to take advantage of the Biden administration’s prioritization of apprenticeship programs. Since Biden took office in January 2021, the federal government has invested more than $440 million in apprenticeship programs, according to the White House, including $195 million announced earlier this year to expand apprenticeships in key sectors, including K-12 education.

Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act also allowed state governments to use some of their share of the $195.3 billion in state aid directly allocated to them on apprenticeship programs.

‘Such a critical thing in our communities’

The Nevada Forward Initiative is one of many apprenticeship programs in the state, with 70 registered apprenticeship programs in 2024 listed on the state office of labor’s website.

Other Nevada programs prepare apprentices for jobs in fields including industrial maintenance, cement masonry, carpentry, drywall, cybersecurity support, bricklaying, and more.

“It’s just a little seed investment that grows such a critical thing in our communities,” Claus said about apprenticeships.

The number of people enrolled in apprenticeship programs in the US has grown from roughly 357,000 in 2011 to over 593,000 in 2021, the latest reported year, according to the US Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration.

Nevada has also experienced growth in its apprentice population over the last decade. The state registered 4,000 more apprentices this year than 10 years ago, with over 6,700 registered apprentices in 2024, according to Toni Giddens, Nevada’s state apprenticeship director.

Nevada is one of the states that directly oversees and operates its apprenticeship programs, instead of the US Department of Labor (DOL) doing so, according to Giddens.

The growth of apprenticeships in Nevada have been supported by recent investments from the federal government.

“I’d say over the last four to five years, apprenticeship [programs have] gotten roughly about $4 million worth of grant funding,” Giddens said.

Those funds came directly through the DOL or were funneled via the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.

Giddens said Nevada apprenticeships are already directly benefiting from grants from the Inflation Reduction Act, which Biden signed into law in 2022. The law is supporting apprenticeships in the state by supplying grants to help fund the Brightline West High Speed Rail Project.

“We’re already seeing the effects of that,” Giddens said. “One is that there is going to be the ability for some of our construction trades programs to increase the number of apprentices that are coming through because the jobs will be there. And then we’re also seeing the ability to develop new programs that don’t currently exist.”

Nevada also applied for federal grants to support the mining and recycling of batteries in Northern Nevada through the CHIPS and Science Act. That funding, if received, would also help support apprenticeship programs to educate workers in those fields, according to Giddens.

With the support it got from Covid-era federal funding nearly used up, Claus said the initiative still needs the money to help pay for the growing numbers of apprenticeships to educate workers in Nevada’s education system.

“Right now, we are really proud to manage funding for this many people to get their education and then turn around and serve the workforce,” Claus said. “And that doesn’t happen anymore without these funds.”

  • Mark Credico

    Mark Credico is a born-and-raised Las Vegas native. He graduated from UNLV after writing for the school newspaper, then spent a year writing for the Las Vegas Review-Journal covering local government and breaking news.

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