A healthcare apprenticeship program in rural Colorado is showing a broader embrace of apprenticeship programs might help address the nation’s healthcare worker shortage.

The program, run through Western Colorado Area Health Education Center in Grand Junction, is meant to get people in the door of healthcare settings. Founded in 2019, the program was boosted by a $2 million grant from the US Department of Labor last year.

Almost 60 employers including nursing homes provide on-the-job training to apprentices, who have to stay a year after they have learned to become personal care aides.

“We really just want students to get into healthcare, get jobs, and retain those jobs,”  Georgia Hoaglund, executive director of Western Colorado AHEC, which has 210 active apprentices.

Hoaglund’s program began in 2019. Since then, 16 people have completed the program and have received pay increases or promotions, according to a Nov. 29 article in Kaiser Health News. The largest hospital in Grand Junction recruits workers from the program.

Apprenticeship as a nursing home sector staffing solution is catching on out of necessity. LeadingAge is lobbying Congress to carve out money specifically for aging services as it considers how to fund a national program. According to LeadingAge, apprentices could learn many roles in facilities: environmental services, culinary, respiratory therapists, direct care supervisors, and resident care advisors.

“Our sector is ripe for initiating apprenticeships. We just haven’t historically had them,” Jenna Kellerman, LeadingAge’s director of workforce strategy and development, told McKnight’s in November. “It’s such a strong model for training. Implementing apprenticeship models where we’re able to train people on the floor in our organizations would be a huge win for our sector in general in terms of training nurses.”